This wasn’t intentional, but my Toronto International Film Festival experience kicked off this year with wall-to-wall teen sexuality.
Not that I’m complaining, per se, but I am fascinated by the provocative double feature TIFF programmers slotted into Thursday afternoon as the fest got underway, and how two separate movies could take one similar topic and approach it in completely different ways.
Marine Vacth, the lead actress in Francois Ozon’s Young & Beautiful, is just that, and her breathtaking looks dictate the avenues Ozon chooses to explore. I’m not sure I was ready for them, though. After losing her virginity to a handsome German tourist while on vacation, Isabelle (Vacth) transitions rapidly into minor-grade prostitution. I know, right?! Ozon suggests that the deflowering opened up a window for this attractive, naïve teen, and she explores all options of manipulation… which involve taking lots of money from horny, older “Johns.”
There’s a twist in Beautiful I didn’t see coming. It fits the natural progression of Isabelle’s unusual journey, though Ozon’s reflection on the power of feminine beauty isn’t shocking so much as it is moving, emotionally.
Not nearly as moving, though, as the next feature: Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color. The Palme d’Or winner at this year’s Cannes Film Fest boasts a staggering level of honesty as it approaches first loves between two French females. It’s the finest cinematic depiction of an all-encompassing love that I’ve seen in years. Kechiche and his willing actresses plunge deep into physical and emotional bonding. Adèle Exarchopoulos, in particular, delivers a heartbreakingly yearning turn as an impressionable teen experimenting with sexuality whose intoxicated by her older lover. Their rocky journey is graphic. It also will rock you to the core.
What’s shocking is how both films use copious amounts of nudity and graphic sexuality to move an audience, instead of to titilate or arouse. By being so casual about their sexuality (they’re both French, after all), the films say a lot more about passion and desire than they do about gratuitous nudity. In hindsight, the films are excellent companion pieces, commenting on the ways girls use sex to form powerful bonds. I’m giving TIFF programmers extra credit for realizing this, even though I stumbled into the double feature simply because my schedule lined up in such fashion.
That’s the magic of TIFF, though. I hope to keep stumbling on similar cinematic miracles for the rest of the week.
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