Baby love – The Refuge review

The Refuge – Starring Isabelle Carré and Louis-Ronan Choisy. Directed by François Ozon. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

Roger Ebert is the bane of many a film critics’ existence. He is able to convey in one concise sentence what it takes lesser writers like myself thousands of words to say. On the subject of The Refuge, he states: “For a time in her life, a woman’s pregnancy is the most important thing about her”. I will take a leaf out of Ebert’s book and keep my review short; consider it an exercise in succinctness, in honour of an understated little film that remains remarkably touching and still packs an almighty final punch.

François Ozon’s The Refuge invites us to spend a few months at an isolated French hideaway with a pregnant drug addict and the gay brother of her late boyfriend. Needless to say, hijinks do not ensue. The mother, Mousse (played by the luminous Isabelle Carré), discovers that she is a vessel for new life only after her partner Louis (Melvil Poupaud) overdoses in their apartment. Louis’ family don’t want Mousse to keep the baby, but she does, even if she’s not fully sure ‘why’. Off she heads to a chateau on the French countryside where she will stay away from drugs and watch her baby grow in peace. Louis’ brother Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy) joins her for a time, and although he’s gay, we know that his relationship with Mousse will evolve beyond mere friendly companions.

Does she actually want to be a mother? Hard to say. Does she even feel her baby moving around her? We’re not privy to any scenes like that. The film is free of Knocked Up-style observations on the quirks of carrying a baby; we witness her belly’s embiggening, and that’s it. However, Mousse is clearly entranced by the mere act of being pregnant; of creating, protecting and contributing to something bigger than herself. When the baby arrives, Mousse feels disconnected from her child. How can something can be a part of you for nine months, and then, a completely different person? So few films are made about pregnancy and childbirth; few discussions are held about it without the phrases “pro-choice” or “pro-life” being shouted over the top. The time we spend with the complex Mousse, as she navigates the conflicting emotions a bulging belly brings, allows us to ponder these miracles in full.

Ebert says The Refuge is about “a woman’s pregnancy [being] the most important thing about her”. However, as we see in the film’s final moments, carrying the baby is probably the second most important thing humans can do. It’s what comes next that really matters.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The Refuge has an exclusive two week season at the Perth International Arts Festival from January 17th to January 30th. Click here for more details.

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