Starring: Isabelle Carre, Louis-Ronan Choisy, Melvil Poupaud, Claire Vernet
Director: Francois Ozon
Category: III (French)
Having spent the past few years dabbling in Angel's Victorian-era drama and Ricky's flying-baby fantasy, Francois Ozon returns with a gritty psychological drama about loss - a theme he last tackled in 2005 with the equally stark Time to Leave.
While that film presents a solemn spiral towards the cancer-stricken protagonist's demise, Le Refuge strikes a more optimistic note: it begins with a death but ends with a rebirth, as the lead character learns from her troubled experiences to start anew.
The film's anti-hero is Mousse (Isabelle Carre, near right with Marie Riviere), a young heroin-addicted woman who discovers - to her dismay - that she is pregnant with the child of boyfriend Louis (Melvil Poupaud), who has died of an overdose.
Grief-stricken and chastised by all - none more so than Louis' mother (Claire Vernet), who suggests an abortion - Mousse leaves Paris to live in a seaside chalet, seeking refuge from the world while nursing mixed feelings towards the baby inside her.
It's with the arrival of Louis' gay brother Paul (singer Louis Ronan-Choisy's acting debut) that Mousse emerges from her lethargy, only to be drawn to Paul's charms. More important is how the bond leads to a d?tente that reconciles the internal schisms tearing at both characters.
As in most of Ozon's work, Le Refuge's characters are mentally frail and struggle with their eccentricities. And in her portrayal of this, Carre, who was herself pregnant during filming, delivers one of her best performances. She captures Mousse's angst at having to live on while her cherished companion has gone, while carrying a load which reminds her daily of her loss. Her powerful turn is especially evident in scenes with Ronan-Choisy - and it's a towering performance which makes Le Refuge a vividly challenging piece, one which casts a critical light on how familial ties can be broken and renewed by social conventions about morality and normalcy.
Le Refuge opens today