CANNES, France (AP) -- Cannes has been the birthplace of many a star, and the latest candidate to shine is Marine Vacth, who plays a teenager confronting the complexities of adolescent sexuality in Francois Ozon's "Jeune et Jolie" ("Young and Beautiful.")
The 23-year-old French model fully lives up to the film's title as Isabelle, a 17-year-old the film follows across four seasons -- from a fleeting summer fling to work as an emotionally detached Parisian prostitute.
It's an enigmatic character study, with frequent nudity and plenty of sex. Ozon -- who is known for his rapport with actresses including Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier -- said he knew Vacth was right for the challenging role despite her lack of acting experience.
"In her eyes I could see there was a whole inner world, a mystery, and that is exactly what I was looking for in my film," he told reporters Thursday.
"Marine didn't have much experience ... but she also was a model and that helped her for the nude scenes. She was quite free. Often actresses are ill at ease in those scenes."
Vacth, who has modeled for Yves Saint Laurent, Chloe and Ralph Lauren, said she enjoyed the experience of making the film, but is loath to call herself an actress.
"I didn't feel there was any major transition moving from model to actress," she said. "It was more complex than that.
"I have never really viewed myself as a model. I have a problem with being given a kind of status. I have no idea what 'actress' even means, even though I enjoy acting a great deal."
"Jeune et Jolie" premiered at Cannes Thursday to warm applause from French journalists and a hint of puzzlement from some others.
Ozon -- who has won a wide international audience with films including "Swimming Pool," ''Potiche" and "In The House" -- said he wanted to counteract the "highly idealized" depiction of adolescence in many movies and show the complex reality.
But in its copious nudity, lingering glances at young female sexuality and soundtrack of 1960s Gallic pop, it seemed to some Anglo audience members archetypally and bafflingly French -- too French, perhaps, to take the top prize when the Cannes jury, headed by Steven Spielberg, hands out its awards on May 26.
It comes as no surprise that Isabelle's first, disappointing lover is not a Frenchman, but a young German she meets on the beach.
Originally, he was to have been from a country with an even lower amorous reputation in France.
"In the screenplay it was an Englishman, because it's a bit of a cliche, a stereotype, for a French girl to sleep with an English boy," Ozon said.
In the end, he became German -- "but I'm sure the English boy would have been just as bad a lover."
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.