François Ozon's The Refuge
Director François Ozon’s work has intrigued viewers all over the world with his intense exploration of femininity, and his latest film The Refuge is no exception. The first ten minutes of the film paves the way for certain tragedy. Mousse (Isabelle Carre) and Louis (Melvil Poupaud) have an intense relationship. Their affection for each other is overwhelming as they hold each other, kiss – and inject heroin into each other.
When the two of them overdose, it is Louis’s mother who finds them. Face down with eyes horribly twisted open, Louis cannot be revived, but Mousse survives him with news that will ultimately save her life. She is pregnant.
After declining her in-laws’ offer to have the baby “taken care of”, Mousse flees Paris to a quiet house near the beach; a place she calls her refuge. It is here that six months later, Louis’s brother Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy) comes to stay with her and get to know the beautiful drug-addicted woman his brother loved.
The Refuge is not perfect. There are character inconsistencies that distract from the plot, but there is nothing that can disguise the movie’s beautiful, melancholy soul. Isabelle Carre was in fact six months pregnant at the time of filming, and she is stunningly radiant for it. Her petite frame proudly displays her newly swollen belly, but Mousse rarely indulges in any overtly maternal behaviour towards it. This itself is intriguing; she chose to have the baby rather than abort it and continue with her heroin-addicted lifestyle, but this decision does not give way to motherly displays of love and affection. Mousse remains an enigma.
Paul becomes a welcome introduction of basic human emotion. Not only is he a more sympathetic character, but he brings out a side to Mousse that is likable. She laughs, dances and comes to life. As their friendship grows, so too does Mousse’s sense of awareness; she deals with he loss of Louis, her feelings for Paul and the responsibility of her impending parenthood.
François Ozon has directed many films that explore pregnancy, maternity and the feminine psyche. There are three dominant female roles: the tyrannical mother in law, the lonely addictive personality and randomly enough, a stranger on the beach who seems to represent the sense of guilt that every mother tends to feel. These representations are combated with the images of masculinity; Paul is, after all, a comfortable homosexual. The characters weave in and out of each other’s lives, corrupting and enriching at the same time. Ozon goes for a more subtle approach to life lessons though, opting out of the clichéd birth scene and letting Mousse reach her sense of self in her own way.
Another insightful contribution to contemporary French Cinema, Francois Ozon has crafted The Refuge with the patience and skill that every filmmaker should have. The Refuge opens this week in ACMI’s First Look Program and will run until Sunday 12 December.