wed 27/10/2021

Le Refuge | reviews, news & interviews

Le Refuge

Le Refuge

A low-key Gallic charmer - shame about the ending

Intimations of intimacy: Isabelle Carré stars in François Ozon's latest

Amid the cinematic dog days of late summer, François Ozon's Le Refuge comes aptly named: a character-led, intimate tale in the style of the late Eric Rohmer that will infuriate those who like their films more purely driven by plot even as it offers a refuge to moviegoers for whom the curves of a pregnant belly or a handsome young man's spine contain within them their own narrative.

A meditation on the subtleties of tenderness and the legacy of pain, the film possesses something of the qualities of an exceedingly smart novella. Well, at least up until a final sequence that threatens to undo much of what has come before.

The opening passage is something of a red herring, at least for those (like me) for whom close-ups of any activity involving needles has you heading straight for the door. (Needless to say, Trainspotting is not one of my desert island films.) Ozon begins proceedings with images of a seemingly affluent young Parisian couple indulging their latest heroin fix, with the neck, ankle and arm all getting a graphic look-in.

Flash forward, two days have elapsed, and our heroine (forgive the pun) awakens in hospital from a coma to the news that her boyfriend has died of an overdose and that she is eight weeks pregnant. But whereas you might then expect a discourse on the difficulties involved in going cold turkey, Le Refuge instead shifts gears to chart the burgeoning rapport between the indrawn Mousse (Isabelle Carré) and her deceased lover's gay brother, Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), who follows Mousse to a coastal retreat belonging to a bygone lover of Mousse who happened to be blind. (That particular individual is never seen.)

And so a short film unfolds in accordance with a time-honoured Ozon paradox whereby a camera interested in surfaces simultaneously allows the spectator to get under its characters' skin. It helps, of course, that Ozon has two willing and charismatic subjects in the much-lauded Carré - who was herself actually pregnant while the film was being shot - and the softly spoken Choisy, a real-life musician who does indeed communicate the gentleness on which even the vaguest acceptance of the film's conclusion must depend.

Carré, for her part, inhabits especially well the earlier scenes following the funeral of Mousse's partner, Louis, during which his family eyes this outsider in their midst suspiciously, whispering domestic truths all the while. Invited into a stern-faced conference with Louis's mum (Claire Vernet), Mousse gives off an independence of spirit that goes beyond language, in a film in which action throughout speaks louder than words. (Her recovery from heroin, for instance, is glancingly mentioned and then never brought up again.)

You might question a scenario that simply allows two people - their relationship essentially platonic, though for a brief while not - just to stare at the sky, in the same way that Ozon poses as a given an interlude whereby Mousse is chatted up, and more, by a man who is bewitched by her bulging tummy. This is the way life goes, Le Refuge suggests, in spasms of desire and need that can't be foreseen and are rarely explained. In that same spirit, I suppose I should be more generous about an ending that presumably is happy, after a fashion, however odd it seems. But much as I warmed to the film as I was watching it, and its undertow of melancholy does stay with you, this is one movie whose sequel I am not awaiting: the final tendresse auguring, I would argue, not much besides ill.

Watch the Le Refuge trailer

Our heroine wakes from a coma to find that her boyfriend died of an overdose and she is eight weeks pregnant

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