Le Refuge (The Refuge)
A film like Francois Ozon’s Le Refuge could only be French. It is beautifully shot, populated with complicated and not and entirely likable characters, and deals with taboo subject matters in a nuanced fashion. The film centers on Mousse (Isabelle Carré), a sharp-tongued young woman who struggles with heroin addiction. When her lover Louis (Melville Poupaud) dies from and overdose and she finds out she’s pregnant, she decides to keep the baby against the wishes of Louis’ aristocratic mother and escapes Paris for a beach-getaway in rural France. Later, Louis’ brother Paul (Louis Ronan-Choisy) joins her there and the movie evolves from that point.
While this subject matter sounds overly dramatic, Francois Ozon treats the story and his characters in a matter-of-fact manner and lets the movie center around the characters, their dialogue, and their internal struggles. This is what makes this film so French—there’s no drama and moralizing around subjects like sexuality, pregnancy, abortion and drugs. Mousse is allowed to develop into a multidimensional character, something that often feels like a luxury for American actresses.
Carré is glamorous and sullen. There are plenty of lingering shots on her heavily mascaraed eyelashes to recall French starlets of French New Wave films. Especially striking is the scenes of Mousse on the beach with a graffiti cover seawall behind her and dancing under pulsing strobes in a dance club. Ozon is an equal opportunity director and he also lets his camera linger on Paul and his lover Serge, whom he meets in the town. Music also serves to advance the plot of the film and key scenes are underscored with songs by Texas, Superpitcher, and Louis Ronan-Choisy.
This film is not one that would appeal to mainstream American audiences, which is why they should make an effort to seek it out. It is as unsettling as it is beautiful. It does not make a political or moral statement, but is daring, complex and unconventional and visually striking.