The 42-year-old Parisian’s latest returns him to safer and more familiar territory. Like ‘Under the Sand’, ‘5x2’ and ‘Time to Leave’ before it, ‘Le Refuge’ is an intimate contemporary drama that plays out on bourgeois, metropolitan terrain and concerns itself with examining one or two people and their relationship to love or death. It’s blessed with a mesmerising performance from Isabelle Carré who was six or seven months pregnant for most of the shoot and appears in nearly every scene. It’s short and even slight, more of an observational short story of a film than a rich novel, but it’s entrancing and moving nonetheless.
We begin in Paris, but soon, as so often with Ozon’s films, find ourselves dragged willingly to the sea. Mousse (Carré) and Louis (Melvil Poupaud) are heroin addicts, and Ozon invites us to share the piercing of their arms and necks – as a director, Ozon worships bodies – before tragedy strikes and Mousse is left alone and pregnant. An awkward encounter with Louis’s haughty mother informs her choice to leave Paris for the coast, where she borrows a house. Soon she’s joined by Louis’s brother Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), himself more of an exile from his background than he seems.
Most of the film chronicles the short period of time – a week, maybe two – that Mousse and Paul spend together in this house. Their interests collide, as when they go to a beach or a club together, and diverge, as when Paul stumbles into a local affair or Mousse encounters strangers with differing attitudes to pregnancy, such as the lecturing woman on the beach or the warm seducer in a bar. Partly, you feel that Ozon just wants to portray a pregnancy up close – and the shots of Carré on the beach or in the bath are fascinating for their uniqueness: it’s refreshing not to watch an actress with a pillow stuffed up her jumper. But we’re also gently reminded that this is the pregnancy of someone who is an addict, who is without a partner and who is in the throes of grief, even if none of those are always apparent.
As such, most of ‘Le Refuge’ unfolds in an ethereal sort of limbo space – something of which we’re sharply reminded by a brief, Parisian epilogue that will no doubt have audiences debating its credibility and its rights and wrongs.