Le Refuge - All But a Conventional Movie
Review of The Refuge (2009), dir. Francois Ozon
Winner of the Special Prize of the Jury at the San Sebastian International Film Festival in 2009, Le Refuge was one of the brilliant highlights of the prestigious Art Film Festival in Trenčín last week. The name of the French New Wave director promises an avant-garde view on human sexuality, unexpected plot twists, and intriguing characters.
Where others end, Francois Ozon begins. Le Refuge is all but a conventional movie. The prelude thrusts the audience into a whirlwind of drugs with a climactic scene showing a young pair of lovers—Louis (Melvil Poupaud) and Mousse (Isabelle Carré)—in a weary reverie, overdosing on heroin. The ambience strongly resembles that of Requiem for a Dream by Darren Aronofsky. The young lovers in a tight embrace of a drug addiction spiral out of control and the audience bears witness to a few ugly shots of moral and physical decay of the drug addicts. The dose that they take, however, proves mortal for Louis, and leaves Mousse lying in coma for a few days. Mousse finds out she is pregnant by Louis. Despite disagreement over the pregnancy with Louis’s posh family, she decides to keep the baby and retires to a secluded sassy house on a sun-flooded beach in the south. Louis’s gay brother, Paul (Louis Ronan-Choisy), comes to visit her a few months later. Although he is unwelcomed at first, his resemblance to Louis (in his behavior) soon melts Mousse’s solitary coldness into a desirous longing for love and embrace. The director’s decision of Paul’s homosexuality puts him into a controversial position. Since he is gay (he spends the night with Serge, a boy who does the shopping for Mousse and turns out to be gay too), the passionate, but very loving and gentle encounter with Mousse comes rather unexpectedly. After their bond, Paul leaves and they are first reunited at hospital in Paris, shortly after Mousse’s delivery.
The disturbing sense of serious issues such as the drug addiction and high-risk pregnancy that are alluded to lingers throughout the movie. The audience experiences uneasiness when Mousse drinks vials of methadone (indicated for pregnant women addicted to drugs as a substitutional therapy), goes dancing in a night club with ear-splitting music and frivolously drinks alcohol. The importance of these is merely touched on, and though it may seem so, pregnancy is certainly not the main theme in the story. Ozon uses it as an instrument of keeping up a life – Louis is gone, but Mousse’s belly is a constant reminder of his presence. Also, she does not think of the baby as her child yet, but she is curious what it will look like. When a baby-girl is born, she calls her Louise, a clear sign of love transcending death. The extent to which Ozon makes homosexuality the theme or even focus of this film, can be argued, since it has become sort of a personal hallmark recurring in most of his work.
The movie is a portrayal of the troubled lives of its characters – Louis’s parents cannot decide which child they would rather have lost, the father is devastated and scarcely speaks, the mother is astonishingly peaceful and looks relieved, Paul has been adopted (which comes as a surprising revelation to Mousse) and Mousse is plagued by her sudden loss. When she hears of Louis's death, she does not shed a tear, which, however, does not render her emotionless, just to the contrary—further on in the film the director shows what an introverted character she is, fighting the sadness within her and silently mourning over Louis’s death. The little gesture of Mousse spraying her bed sheets with Louis’s perfume is touching and expresses her deep emotional distress. There are other moments when she feels closer to Louis such as when Paul plays his and his brother’s childhood song (theme song of the movie).
She is not prepared for her new life and sees a loving parent in Paul despite his shortcomings. Making him her foster father and disappearing out of her newly born daughter’s life is an unexpected twist. The ending, however, gives a sparkle of hope that when Mousse puts all the lost pieces of her life’s puzzle together, she will join the two. What an irony that she gives her baby-girl—now an orphan—to a man who himself had once been an orphan and was later adopted. One way or another, the movie is a mosaic of episodes from troubled lives of the principal characters and a well-thought capture of the heroine’s psyche rather than a completed narrative. Also, the decision to give the main characters a different sexual orientation excludes any kind of romantic bondage between these two. So when they do form a liaison, it is not to meet the audience’s expectations, but to surpass them.
To conclude, Isabelle Carré, who was actually pregnant while shooting the film, plays the role of Mousse brilliantly. She is truly mesmerizing and the pregnancy only accentuates her French charm and natural beauty.