Emotions run like torrents through François Ozon's Le Refuge, despite the apparent simplicity of the surface narrative. We meet the central character Mousse (Isabelle Carré) just as her life crashes hard against the rocks of reality. In a powerfully shot initial scene - in which Ozon disturbingly explores both the orgasmic nature and horror of getting a fix - she loses her lover Louis (Melvil Poupaud) to heroin and finds herself not only alone and bewildered but also pregnant.

Louis's upper-class mother can't see further than Mousse's addiction and offers little in the way of solace but the 'carrot' of abortion. We catch up with Mousse some time later when, in an act of defiance, she has been given a beautiful roof over her head by an old lover - apparently out of the picture - as she waits out her pregnancy.

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Still taking methadone, her world is confined and her emotions closed up, less refuge than self-imposed prison cell. The arrival of Louis' gay brother Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), however, looks set to provide a catalyst for change as he struggles to come to terms with his own relationship with his dead brother, while Mousse finds herself in a maelstrom of emotion thanks to his physical similarity to her lover.

This is a film about metamorphosis, perfectly illustrated by the central character's pregnancy. Carré was actually pregnant during the shoot, which affords Ozon an opportunity to capture the changes brought about by it. But although the physical shifts are the most obvious, the psychological gear change is of equal importance to Ozon.

It's true that the narrative has a slow and contemplative pacing, which may test the patience of some, particularly after such 'climactic' opening scenes, but there is a quiet refusal to condemn Mousse, irrespective of her character flaws, that proves compelling. Carré is perfect in the central role and despite the initial unlikelihood of her relationship with Choisy's character, the pair develop of delicate and believable chemistry. That Choisy - a hit musician by trade and who also supplies the film's excellent soundtrack - pulls off such a neatly modulated performance in his debut role, is particularly impressive.

This is a subtle and touching exploration of relationships that challenges traditional ideas of where we ought to find happiness, suggesting that it is perfectly possible to find solace and healing outside conventional norms and offering us all a refuge from knee-jerk judgement.

Reviewed on: 13 Aug 2010
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A pregnant woman whose boyfriend dies of an overdose forms an unexpected bond with his brother.
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Director: François Ozon

Writer: Mathieu Hippeau, François Ozon

Starring: Isabelle Carré, Louis-Ronan Choisy, Pierre Louis-Calixte, Melvil Poupaud

Year: 2009

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


SSFF 2009

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