Sunday, August 08, 2010

Review - Le Refuge

A great piece of casting is the main reason François Ozon's Le Refuge works as well as it does. In the central role of Mousse, Ozon has cast Isabelle Carré who, aside from being a fine actress, was heavily pregnant throughout the film's shoot. At the start of the picture, Mousse and her boyfriend Louis (Melvil Poupaud) are drug addicts and the opening scene finds them injecting a fateful overdose of heroin. Mousse later wakes up in hospital, but Louis is not so lucky, and after being informed of her lover's death, Mousse then discovers that she is carrying his child. Louis' wealthy family put pressure on her to have an abortion, but she refuses and leaves for an isolated country house, where she can prepare for the birth of her baby, the last piece of Louis she possesses.

It's clear that the fascination in this story for Ozon lies very much with his leading lady. He makes great use of Carré's naturally bulging belly and swelling breasts, and other characters in the film seem to find them just as transfixing as the director does. Le Refuge is an extremely tactile film, with people constantly reaching out to touch Mousse's stomach; when she meets a man who asks her to go to bed with him, she responds by requesting that he simply hold her and another scene has Mousse encountering a rather intense woman on the beach. There's a great tenderness in the film overall, with Mathias Raaflaub's delicate cinematography bringing a sense of peacefulness to the scenes at Mousse's retreat, particularly when compared with the harsher shooting style in the early Paris-set scenes, and Ozon, who has always been a great director of women, draws a superb display from Carré. She's a mesmerising screen presence who is especially watchable in her character's quieter, more contemplative moments, but after a while I began to wonder if there was much more to the film beyond this strong central performance.

In truth, I'm not sure there is. Mousse is eventually joined at her refuge by Louis' younger brother Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), and the pair's developing friendship is troubled by the resemblance to Louis that Mousse sees in him. Choisy is a musician rather than an actor (he also contributed the lyrical score), and he never really brings his character to life. The film rather drifts through its second half as this central relationship grows more complicated, but Ozon's understated approach fails to engineer any kind of dramatic momentum. Le Refuge builds to a climax that is both surprising and touching, but it still feels like a minor piece of work from a talented director. Frankly, I'm a little disappointed that of the two films Ozon made in 2009, this is the one that's receiving a UK release while his other feature Ricky (about a flying baby, no less!) failed to get distribution.