KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Film

Sex and the teenage girl

by Rochelle Siemienowicz , May 1, 20142 Comments

Young and Beautiful

 

‘All people who love cinema are voyeurs’, according to French film director François Ozon. Is there really anything wrong with that? We’re there to watch, and if our eyes love beauty – the glory of the human face and body – why condemn them? But when that beauty belongs to very young women who take their clothes off and appear to have sex on screen for our entertainment, there comes a point when you wonder if by sitting in the cinema watching, you’re becoming a dirty old pervert. Or at least, that was the way I felt when I watched Young & Beautiful, the latest film from Ozon (Swimming Pool, Under the Sand, 8 Women) about a 17-year-old Parisian schoolgirl who takes up prostitution as a secret hobby.

Like a peeping tom, Ozon first introduces Isabelle (Marine Vacth) through the spying eyes of her little brother’s binoculars. We see her sunbaking topless on one of those pebbly European beaches that make Australians feel superior. Later that night, the painfully skinny and rather sullen-looking (but yes, incredibly beautiful) Isabelle will lose her virginity, without fanfare or romance, to a redheaded German tourist. As he’s thrusting away, she feels herself splitting off, as if she’s watching the action from afar, as a spectator. It’s the only real clue we get as to why, when she returns from her holiday, she sets herself up as a high class call girl, selling sex to men who are old enough to be her grandfather. When she’s eventually discovered by the police, she can’t explain why she’s doing it. Her mother is distraught and her psychologist is puzzled.

The mystery of Isabelle’s motivation need not be fully solved. Why should all behaviour make sense, especially that of impulsive and rebellious teenagers? And the film’s refusal to judge or condemn is fair enough. But what’s creepy is the way it adores the flesh of its sulky and uncommunicative young subject – selling it in the very title and poster art for the movie – and offering no real story, no real understanding, and inviting no empathy. Instead, it’s a very beautiful but vacuous portrait of the oft-naked Vacth – full lips, silky hair and narrow hips – all overlaid with some melancholy French pop songs. It made me squirm.

For a more fully realised and altogether more fascinating film about sex and the teenage girl, check out indie Australian drama 52 Tuesdays, directed by Sophie Hyde (Life in Movement) and performed entirely by a cast of untrained actors. Shot consecutively every Tuesday for a year in Adelaide, the story follows the articulate and funny 16-year-old Billie (Tilda Cobham-Hervey) whose lesbian mother (Del Herbert-Jane) is undergoing gender transition to become a man. Feeling rejected and confused, Billie undergoes her own kind of rebellious sexual discovery, aided by a video camera and a couple of adventurous school pals (Imogen Archer and Sam Althuizen) with whom she forms an unconventional threesome.

Shot in the form of a video diary that traces both the mother’s sex change as well as the teenage girl’s journey, 52 Tuesdays is expertly edited (by Bryan Mason) to create a story that invites us not just to look, but to understand and to feel as well. The time-lapse nature of the experiment is a huge part of its pleasure. We look with fascination as hair grows, breasts disappear, beards are cultivated and discarded, and the very young Cobham-Hervey seems to grow wiser and more wary by the minute. But we’re just as engaged by the emotional questions raised: how can this family work? And is this child-on-the-verge-of-womanhood safe from herself?

The desire to look – at others and at oneself – is taken for granted as a natural and healthy one in 52 Tuesdays. And yet, without giving away too much of the story, it hits home with a strong message about the need to protect the young from themselves. Voyeurism has its limits.

Rochelle Siemienowicz is a Melbourne-based film journalist, reviewer and editor. 

ACO logo




  • Danielle

    I felt uncomfortable just watching the trailer for “Jeune & jolie”, so I don’t think I’ll even attempt the film. But “52 Tuesdays” sounds very interesting (another little something for Aussies to feel superior about?)

  • Mel Campbell

    Re: Young and Beautiful, I’m reminded of that awful film Elles with Juliette Binoche as a journalist interviewing teenage call girls and incorporating her weird value judgments about their job into her own posh, unhappy life.

9781926428239

Abigail Ulman

Cold Feet and Hot Little Hands: Abigail Ulman on writing – and not writing – her first book

Post-book deal, every time I sat down to try to write something, I felt paralysed by some kind of literary stage fright. I had shown my work to other people before – for writing workshops, and submissions to literary journals and competitions – but I had never before written a story while thinking This story is going to be published in a book. Or, more accurately, This story idea is nowhere near good enough to be published in a book. Read more »

9781926428239

Sian Campbell

Girlhood and The Woman-Child in Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands

Each of the stories in Hot Little Hands navigates girlhood in some way, from the lives of high school-age teenagers to those of young twentysomething women. ‘Girl things’ such as horse camp, gymnastics, feminised bodies, clothing, periods, crushes, yoga and gossip weave through the fabric of the text. Though the subject matter is often adult – the girls of Hot Little Hands navigate abortion, sex trafficking, young motherhood, drugs, and deportation – the girls themselves are not… even when they technically are. Read more »

Dont-Try-This-at-Home-_-cover_-FINAL1-300x460

James Tierney

Subscriber Stories: Angela Readman’s Don’t Try This At Home

As a subscriber to publisher And Other Stories’ distribution model, I am in the unusual position of reviewing a book – Angela Readman’s short story collection Don’t Try This At Home – that thanks me by name for making its existence possible. Read more »

amy-schumer

Rebecca Shaw

Amy Schumer and the equal right to be funny

I don’t think men should be banned from making jokes about contentious subjects. I am of the belief that anything can and should be laughed about, and if done right, it can be beneficial. But more often, women are doing it right, and women are doing it better. Read more »

womens-home-companion

Kate Iselin

Trivial Pursuits: The media and ‘women’s interests’

Women, especially in public life, exist as a part of men’s worlds – a big part, sure – but still a part. Even as women become more vocal in demanding accurate and respectful representation, we are kept at arms length by a mainstream media which struggles to catch up. Read more »

SGbTsPQ

Rebecca Shaw

Command and Control: Trophy daughters and overprotective dads

There is no doubt that an overprotective parent is better than a parent who couldn’t care less what their child gets up to. And there is no doubt that most overprotective mums and dads are well-meaning. But paternal ‘protectiveness’ shticks often boil down to fathers not wanting their daughters to have sex, and by extension, get pregnant. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

kstew

Joanna di Mattia

Kristen Stewart Through the Looking-Glass

Kristen Stewart is an actress who has been criticised, maligned even, for an acting style that transmits from set to screen as sullen, adolescent, wooden, blank, fidgety and inelegant. But perhaps she’s an actress concerned with authenticity, and the defining feature of her style is to show us herself by appearing like she’s not acting at all. Read more »

it-follows-4

Anwen Crawford

Behind You: The subtler horror of It Follows

I don’t watch many horror films. Lifelong victim of an overactive and slightly morbid imagination, I regularly envisage disasters, natural or otherwise, that might befall me, without requiring the added stimulus of cinema. Read more »

Struggle+Street+KEY+IMAGE

Anwen Crawford

Shame and Stigma on Struggle Street

Struggle Street framed poverty as a combination of genetic inheritance and natural disaster – a barrier to be overcome only through ceaseless positive effort. Those who sabotage themselves through bad choices are therefore fair targets for our scorn, while those who gain employment or remain sober deserve praise for overcoming the odds. The deserving and undeserving poor, in other words. What an old story. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

16741557134_5206bec0cd_k

Jane Howard

Dark Side of the Rainbow: Belvoir St Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz

This production of The Wizard of Oz is ‘after L Frank Baum’: after his book, after the 1939 film, and after our collective memories of both. Fragmented, non-narrative, and largely wordless, it relies on our existing knowledge of the text to build a work of images and emotion, and in doing so demands an extreme generosity from the audience. Read more »

Arts House_Image_10c_Oedipus Schmoedipus (post)_Credit – Ellis Parrinder copy

Jane Howard

A Case for Diversity in Theatre

Attracting different audiences to the theatre is about many things. It’s about accessibility for people without high disposable incomes, but it’s also about marketing and publicity; about creating venues which are physically accessible for people with disabilities; and about ensuring the performers on stage are as diverse as we want their audiences to be. Read more »

2909252617_1f456d0c81_b

Jane Howard

A Working-Class Mythology: Ironing boards at the theatre

In theatre, there is perhaps no prop piece more mythologised than the ironing board, which came to signify the birth of contemporary British theatre. Read more »