François Ozon weaves a typically intimate and understated tale, which at once absorbed me into a world of inner meaning, and left me questioning what that meaning was exactly. For Le Refuge is one of those films which is a brilliant piece of contemplative cinema for those in the right mood, and a frustratingly quiet and unadventurous look at themes of recovery, self-discovery and moving on with life after tragedy.
The tragedy in question occurs swiftly, right at the start of the film, when young lovers Mousse (Isabelle Carré) and Louis overdose on drugs in their flat in Paris. Mousse somehow survives the toxic encounter, Louis does not. Matters soon shift from bad to worse as Mousse discovers she is pregnant, not a nice condition, I imagine, for a bereaved heroin addict. But a condition which is instantly made all the worse at the funeral of Louis, where his well-to-do family make absolutely clear that they want nothing to do with her, and that they would rather she abort the child and end his dynasty than see her sire his seed.
Only Louis’s brother Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy) seems to stand outside the callous stance of the family, but he fails to speak up.
Nonetheless, Mousse resolves to keep the child and retreats to the coastal cottage of a former lover (who no longer lives there) in order to seek refuge from the pain and suffering that has besieged her life of late. There she sits and grows with child, existing in her grief and solitude, until one day Paul shows up and joins her. What happens subsequently is, as I believe I have already mentioned, an intimate and absorbing tale of the pair of them recovering in their refuge: with no few amount of emotional complications cropping up. (They’re not as simple as you think – he’s gay.)
Whilst the quiet philosophy that is (I hope) imbued into the subtle narrative rarely makes itself heard, and I suspect frequently relies on its audience to conjure it from nothing, it is undeniable that Ozon has an eye for emotion. His low-fi camerawork and pared-down cinematography keep a beautiful realism surrounding his characters.
Meanwhile his actors, especially Isabelle Carré, do a marvellous job of carrying their heavy personal tragedies, and conveying their slow, steady healing, as they take each day as it comes. The story is given an added realism by the fact that Carré was genuinely heavily pregnant during filming, which visibly adds much to her understanding of Mousse and the world she has retreated to.
All-in-all this is a great piece of ponderous arthouse film to sit and absorb, and subsequently pore over, but frankly I remain undecided on whether it has any lasting significance. I suppose time will tell…