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François Ozon's The Refuge (4 stars)

An emotionally involving lyrical tale of new beginnings

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François Ozon's The Refuge

Prolific French director François Ozon makes his best films when directly addressing life and death issues. He fillets the drama from the tender aftershocks of life-changing events like the loss of a partner in Under The Sand (Sous Le Sable), the bittersweet memories of a divorcing couple in 5 X 2 or the discovery of a terminal illness in Time To Leave (Le Temps Qui Reste). The Refuge is a welcome return to form after the strained artificiality of period piece Angel and the oddball whimsy of Ricky, which remains unreleased in Britain.

The Refuge unfolds with elegant, unfussy precision. Ozon eschews easy sentimentality, favouring painterly framing and a sense of stripped back simplicity that serves the story rather than drawing attention to the storyteller. Louis (Melvil Poupaud) and Mousse (Isabel Carre) are drug addicts. One night in Paris they overdose on heroin that has been cut with valium. Louis dies but Mousse survives and discovers that she is pregnant. ‘Why didn’t I die too?’ she demands. ‘Good question,’ is the tart response from Louis’ frosty mother. Louis’ family assumes that she will agree to an abortion but she leaves Paris for a house in the country that becomes her refuge. Louis’s gay brother Paul (Louis Ronan-Choisy) eventually follows her there. The core of the film is how they negotiate a friendship and a sense of understanding in the absence of the one person who connected them.

The Refuge may sidestep some of the grimmer realities of drug addiction and pregnancy but it remains emotionally involving thanks in part to the lead performances. Louis Ronan-Choisy is a popular singer in France making his acting debut in The Refuge and his shy, slightly embarrassed manner seems a perfect fit for the character of a sensitive outsider. Isabel Carre was pregnant during the shooting and convincingly captures Mousse’s vulnerability and quiet determination to do what she believes to be right, regardless of society’s conventional expectations. The Refuge is a lyrical tale of death, life and new beginnings told with immense assurance. Why can’t Scotland produce a filmmaker like Ozon?

GFT, Glasgow & Filmhouse, Edinburgh from Fri 13 Aug.

The Refuge trailer

The Refuge (Le Refuge)

  • 2009
  • France
  • 88 min
  • 15
  • Directed by: François Ozon
  • Written by: Mathieu Hippeau, François Ozon
  • Cast: Isabelle Carré, Louis-Ronan Choisy

Elegant, unfussy direction elevates this tale of a drug addict who, after an overdosing session in which her boyfriend dies, discovers she's pregnant and runs away to a country refuge. Followed there by her dead lover's gay brother, she develops a new understanding and a new friendship.

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