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    Jeunesse DorŽe

    Misspent "Youth"

    The French film "Jeunesse Doree" ("Golden Youth") about two teenage girls roaming the countryside in search of life does too little to find the essence of its characters.


    French filmmaker Zaida Ghorab-Volta's first feature, "Jeunesse Doree," is about two teenage girls borrowing a car and bolting the monotony of a Parisian suburb to learn about life and love in the countryside. The girls enthusiastically embark on an art project to photograph the outsides of housing projects — the exteriors of homes being an apt-enough metaphor for the facades we all erect to display and hide our inner selves — but where the movie fails is in Ghorab-Volta's hesitance, like her characters, to venture inside.

    Written and directed by: Zaida Ghorab-Volta.
    Cast: Alexandra Jeudon, Alexandra Laflandre..
    In French with English subtitles.
    New Directors New Films 2002
  • Overview
  • Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner)
  • El Bola
  • Delbaran
  • Jeunesse Doree
  • Orphan of Anyang
  • Real Women Have Curves
  • The Slaughter Rule
  • 2001 festival
  • The first act of the film (translation: "Golden Youth") establishes that life in the industrial suburban city of Colombes is lusterless, and lustless for that matter, for teenage pals Gwenaelle (Alexandra Jeudon) and Angela (Alexandra Laflandre). The opening shot of the film frames Gwenaelle, beset by ennui, in the window of her characterless apartment building. She stares outward with equal parts curiosity and apprehension. Her prickly personality and look of detachment at her family's dysfunctional dinner table tells you this 17-year-old wants out. Anytime soon.

    Her friend Angela, 18, already has one foot out the door already. She lives in a trailer but likes to doze off under the stars in a sleeping bag. She also sings in a punk band, externalizing her angst in contrast to Gwenaelle's traditional teen brooding.

    After an unnecessarily long setup detailing the girls' brainstorming of the art project and overcoming a few requisite obstacles in acquiring the grant, it's on the road we go. Type-A Angela drives, and Gwenaelle, searching for directions/direction in the road map on her lap, rides shotgun. Visually, once rolling through southwestern France, the film is allowed to breathe. The girls meander through small provincial towns, enjoying the happenstance of the slow life and a series of chance meetings with universally friendly townspeople.

    Jeunesse DorŽe  
    The buildings that the girls choose to photograph are, not coincidentally, very in balance with the surrounding nature, a far cry from the geometric urban grid. Likewise, at about the halfway point of the film, it seems that these two friends may soon find the emotional balance they're seeking in each other's arms. In one scene in which the girls coyly discuss their virginity — the best chemistry and dialogue between the young actresses in otherwise unsure performances — it looks, in fact, like Angela and Gwenaelle may soon find romance without even leaving the car.

    Soon afterward, in what was either good luck or good planning in Ghorab-Volta's shooting schedule, the girls join a crowd in hearty applause as a scenery-blighting warehouse is imploded and falls to the ground, restoring into view the greeen hillside behind.

    The facades have fallen. At this point, the movie could head in any number of directions. But when the girls fail to become romantic that evening while awkwardly sharing a bed at a quiet country inn, it's apparent that veering off into homoerotic terrain wasn't part of the filmmaker's itinerary. The remainder of the film deals primarily with Angela ditching her friend and scurrying off with a strapping lad she meets at a farm in the shadows of the Pyrenees, as Gwenaelle recognizes the limits of her freedom while rebuffing the amorous advances of the farmhand's buddy.

    In one scene, as her young suitor struggles to get Gwenaelle to open up — sexually and emotionally — she looks up distrustingly at the Pyrenees and says, "The mountains looming over you, it's oppressive isn't it? Or is it me?"

    Apparently Ghorab-Volta's point is that you can transplant a girl from the inner city to a breezy, sunny meadow, but you can't always get her interested in the birds and the bees.

    Fair enough, but what was billed as a quest for freedom and a coming-of-age story of girls on the cusp of adulthood proves, in the end, to be little more than a disappointing diary entry without even a healthy amount of self-reflection.

    But at least they took some decent photos.

    APRIL 3, 2002

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