Film: Le Refuge
Release date: 8th November 2010
Running time: 90 mins
Director: Francois Ozon
Starring: Isabelle Carré, Louis-Ronan Choisy, Pierre Louis-Calixte, Melvil Poupaud, Claire Vernet
Studio: Artificial Eye
French director François Ozon steers away from the satirical roots which often characterise his work and explores a number of more serious themes, namely life after the death of a loved one. Through the subtle use of music, and leaving the most poignant messages unsaid, Ozon conjures a film with a melancholic heart.
Isabelle Carré, who was actually pregnant during filming, stars as Mousse, who lives in the comfort of an apartment in Paris with her boyfriend Louis. They live in something of a drug-fuelled bliss – that is until Louis overdoses and dies, still at the foetal stage of the film. Having discovered in the days that follow that she is pregnant, Mousse suffers the wrath of Louis’ mother who insists that she have an abortion, and, as a result, Mousse decides to leave Paris for a more isolated existence.
The dull greys of the city give way to the brilliant colours of the beach house, where the mournful Mousse has settled down for the last six months. Now very heavily pregnant, Mousse welcomes a visitor in the way of Louis’ homosexual brother Paul.
As both Mousse and Paul attempt to cope with their grief, a number of circumstances present themselves, affecting their respective states of mind and their relationship…
Although Ozon could feasibly have continued as he starts Le Refuge, exploring the drugs theme, he quickly deviates from this path, and it becomes clear that one of the main ideas of the film is dealing with tragedy. The audience is often presented with acts of remembrance that they can identify with, as Paul experiences flashbacks of his dead brother and Mousse sprays her pillow with Louis’ cologne at night. Developing such empathy with its characters is a recurring theme throughout, essential for a film that wears its heart on its sleeve.
The stark contrast of the dark, mundane city and the bright sunshine and colours of the refuge come with their own connotations. Mousse’s pregnancy, along with the beauty and tranquillity of the peaceful countryside, bring hope to her gloomy existence, and there is a feeling that by leaving the city, she has at least broken free from some of her grief. Never is this more prominent than in a scene in which she takes a walk in the surf, Ozon concentrating his camera lens on the glint of the sun’s rays on Mousse’s pregnant belly.
Music also plays a key part in shaping the mood of the film throughout. Early on, Louis’ subdued strumming, a harrowing riff executed with an epic simplicity, assists the film’s aspirations of starting on a darker note. His brother Paul plays the piano (which makes up a substantial portion of the soundtrack), and when he does, the melody takes a sombre shape, filled with thoughtful chords. Much of the emotion contained within Le Refuge transpires through its music, as opposed to the conversations between the characters, and dialogue often takes a back seat.
In its closing stages, the film sadly loses its way slightly, unravelling its narrative and disrupting its flow with a far-fetched twist in proceedings. Not only is this twist quite easy to see coming, but considering the predominant themes, it also feels inappropriate.
With its short running time, not all angles of Le Refuge feel like they are resolved. Although the film does not end unexpectedly, one still feels that perhaps more could have been explored with the characters. Only briefly does Ozon scratch beneath the surface with his lead character, which comes as a disappointment. On the whole, Mousse comes across as having coped very well with Louis’ death, but rarely do we find out how she got there.
Despite a reluctance to develop its narrative furthermore, Le Refuge provides a moving snapshot of the various manifestations of grief. François Ozon prioritises the use of contrasting colours and dictates the ambience throughout, sometimes to devastating effect. However, by utilising music as an emotional crutch, the film is slightly guilty of overusing this method, and although the film demonstrates the great power of things left unsaid, once in a while a change of tactic may have been welcome.
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