out of Five
Running time: 88
Beautifully shot French drama from director Francois Ozon with a stunning performance from heavily pregnant actress Isabelle Carre, though it's often stultifyingly slow and the story is ultimately too slight to sustain a full-length feature.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Francois Ozon, Le Refuge stars Isabelle Carre as Mousse, who overdoses on heroin with her lover, Louis (Melvil Poupaud) and wakes up in hospital to find, first, that Louis is dead, and second, that she's two months pregnant with his child. Despite Louis' wealthy mother (Claire Vernet) encouraging her to have an abortion, Mousse decides to keep the baby and decamps to a picturesque coastal cottage, far away from the city.
Towards the end of her pregnancy, Mousse is visited by Louis' sensitive brother Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy) and begins to develop feelings for him, even though she knows he's gay. At the same time, Paul begins a tentative relationship with local deliveryman Serge (Pierre Louis-Calixte), which makes Mousse jealous.
Le Refuge is most notable for casting a genuinely pregnant actress in the lead role (Carre was seven months pregnant during the shoot) rather than relying on the usual prosthetic-and-pillow combo. As such, Ozon practically fetishises her pregnant body throughout the film and there are some genuinely striking shots, particularly the image of Mousse walking along the beach.
Carre is quietly moving as Mousse, even though the script never gives her the obvious grieving / heroin withdrawal scenes you might expect. Musician Louis-Ronan Choisy isn't quite as compelling as an actor, though he makes up for it in his other role as the film's composer – in a beautifully acted scene, Paul plays a tune on the piano that reminds Mousse of Louis and softens her feelings towards him.
In addition, Le Refuge is beautifully shot throughout, with cinematographer Mathias Raaflaub making strong use of the gorgeous coastal locations. However, the pacing is painfully slow in places and very little actually happens, with most scenes consisting of conversations between the two leads.
Le Refuge is a beautifully shot French drama with a superb performance from Isabelle Carre, though Ozon's decision to neglect the more obviously dramatic scenes means that the film ultimately lacks emotional impact.