Only 42 years old, François Ozon is a film director with quite a reputation. Respected by the academic world, he has churned out a dizzying array of very different films, from the surreal Sitcom to Sous le Sable (in which Charlotte Rampling fails to convince as a university professor); from the derivative but enjoyable 8 Femmes, where the characters break into song at various junctures, to the (in my view) vastly overrated Swimming Pool (also with Rampling); and from the touching 5 x 2, which charts the disintegration of a romance in reverse, to Le Temps qui Reste, about a gay man who discovers he is soon to die. Ozon’s new movie, Le Refuge, starring Isabelle Carré and first-time movie actor Louis-Ronan Choisy, a singer who also composed the music for the film, represents another departure for Ozon, even though familiar themes such as loss, birth and sexuality play an important part.
Le Refuge starts with a grimly realistic depiction of a young couple, Mousse (Carré) and Louis (Melvil Poupaud), shooting up heroin together in a plush Parisian apartment. Louis dies from an overdose, but Mousse survives and discovers she is pregnant at the same time she learns of her lover’s death. The remainder of the film functions on a different plane from that of the gritty opening, as Mousse, having decided to continue with the pregnancy (against the advice of Louis’s coldly bourgeois mother), moves to a house on the Basque coast. Although we see Mousse drinking methadone during the course of the movie, the transition from being an addict desperately trying to find a viable vein to living an idyllic seaside existence seems less than credible. The appearance of Louis’s younger gay brother Paul (Choisy), however, gives the movie a refreshing and believable angle, as both characters get to know each other while they come to terms with the loss of Louis and the impending arrival of Mousse’s baby.
Pregnancy dominates the movie and is perhaps its strongest and weakest point. On the positive side, never has a woman’s pregnancy been filmed with such candor. The camera lingers over the body of Isabelle Carré, who herself was pregnant during the filming, and the state of impending motherhood becomes something very real on the big screen, unlike the prosthetic bumps that so many actresses usually wear. The less positive feature comes from what seems to be a very French attitude to pregnant or overweight women. Although Ozon seems to be exploring in the movie the attitudes of others toward a pregnant woman on her own, the only characters who show real enthusiasm for her pregnant state are a woman on a beach, who starts off by complimenting her for having the courage to show herself in a swimsuit but who subsequently turns out to be insane, and a man who buys her a drink and then admits to being a fetishist who is only turned on by pregnant women. Mousse even apologizes at one point for being overweight. It reminds me of a female friend living in Paris who, while expecting a baby, was given a 50-page official booklet for mothers-to-be that contained only one paragraph directed toward fathers, in which they were told that it was natural to feel disgust for their bloated partners but that they should still tell their partners how much they loved them!
Le Refuge is a convincingly acted and thoughtfully produced movie. Ozon might lack the charm, panache, humor or distinctiveness to be called the French Almodóvar, but he is still one of the most interesting French directors around.