François Ozon discusses 'Le Refuge'

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The prolific French director discusses his new film, a drama about childbirth in which the lead actress is actually expecting

Forty-two-year-old filmmaker François Ozon has dominated the last decade of French cinema as the writer-director of films such as ‘Under the Sand’, ‘8 Women’, ‘Swimming Pool’ and ‘5 x 2’. His latest, ‘Le Refuge’, which opens next week, is an intimate drama about Mousse (Isabelle Carré), a Parisian heroin addict who falls pregnant and, after retreating to the coast, strikes up a friendship with her ex’s brother Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy). Carré was pregnant while shooting, lending the film an unusual authenticity.

This feels like a return to familiar territory for you after ‘Ricky’, which was a strange fantasy about a baby who grows wings, and ‘Angel’, a period costume drama shot in the UK.
‘Yes, but I don’t have a logic or strategy, I just follow my instinct. There was this opportunity to film a real, pregnant actress, and I thought it would be amazing to make a film around a pregnancy. I took my chance, wrote a script very quickly and we did it.’

But it’s another contemporary, realist tale, very intimate, and concerned with death – a little like ‘Time to Leave’ or ‘Under the Sand’.

‘I realised the link with my other films during the edit, but not during the writing or shoot. I think I must have an obsession with death and mourning!’

Your lead actress was really pregnant. What challenges did that bring?
‘It was a challenge to the whole production because the insurers don’t want to finance a film with a pregnant woman because it’s dangerous! But we took the risk because the film was very low-budget and took only three weeks. The beginning and the end, when she’s not pregnant, were shot six months later. The only thing we shot with a fake belly was the scene in the nightclub – it was impossible for her to dance!’

Most filmmakers have to shoot with a prosthetic belly when depicting a pregnancy. It must have been a luxury to film a pregnant body.
‘I realised it was a gift that Isabelle gave me. I think she agreed because it was her first baby – she didn’t know what it was to be pregnant and to act. After the first few days she was tired and said: “I’m not sure I would have accepted if I knew how hard it would be.” My first choice was Ludivine Sagnier [‘Swimming Pool’], who was pregnant, but she was having her second child and was afraid. She said to me: “I know what it is to be an actress for you and to be pregnant, so I won’t do it.”’

Did Isabelle Carré have much time to think about it? You must have had to get going quickly.
‘Yes, but she is a very mature actress, there’s no confusion between her parts and her life. There was no confusion with her own pregnancy. She said she felt like other women who go on with work until the delivery of the baby. The only thing she asked was that the baby wouldn’t be a boy because she knew she was having a boy and didn’t want her son to think it was his story.’

There are moments in the film of people behaving oddly towards her – becoming aggressive or trying to seduce her. Were these stories told to you by pregnant women?
‘Yes, the scene on the beach came from chats with pregnant women who told me that often they feel hassled – everybody wants to touch you and give advice. The scene with the man was to play with the idea of sexuality and maternity. I wanted to surprise. I wanted people to fear a shocking sex scene which is actually quite sweet.’

You’re always dragging us back to the seaside with your films – ‘Swimming Pool’, ‘Under the Sand’, ‘5 x 2’, ‘Time to Leave’ and now ‘Le Refuge’…
‘This time it was not my choice! When Isabelle Carré agreed to do the film, she asked whether we could shoot in the south-west of France, where she was going to be on holiday, as she wanted to be close to the sea. At first I actually said that, for once, I wouldn’t film by the sea and would do something in the countryside, but I had no choice!’

Read our review of 'La Refuge'.

Author: Interview: Dave Calhoun



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