09 January 2011
Paris - the city is buzzing with energy. Metro rattles the bridges over the banlieux homes, the headlights of the rush hour are sparkling on the Seine.
The city is alive, but it looks and feels dead.
It’s getting dark and a teenage boy is walking on a residential street. He goes into a building, goes up a few floors and in through the cracked-open door. It is a large flat, barely furnished. He looks around to see the person that buzzed him in. We then hear a twang from a guitar from one of bedrooms - very Ry Cooder. Somebody sniffles.
The boy enters the room - barely furnished with a large bed. By the bed is the sniffler guitarist, wearing a blazer over his bare torso. A cigarette is dangling from his lips. Empty bottles crowd the bedside space.
Another sound, this one comes from a girl, not wearing much, but not revealing much either. She is moaning. She is in pain.
“Is she all right?” asks the boy. “She’ll be all right now”. says the sniffler-guitarist.
Money and drugs are exchanged and the boy leaves.
The girl snuggles up to the guitarist. They are going to shoot some heroin. Looking for a suitable vein takes some time, but the guitarist has his fix. It’s the girl’s turn now. Both her arms are pierced to high heavens.
“Try my ankle”, she says. He does.
Cut to a white room. As white as you can imagine. The dimensiions are no more. Only the girl exists. She is happy. The guitarist approaches behind her and kisses her on the neck. She smiles - this is a happy couple. A happy moment.
The guitarist wakes up panting. He takes a few sips from the nearly-empty vodka bottle by the bed. It’s morning. Sunlight coming through the windows reveal a white bedroom, not unlike his dream, but definitely more real.
He reaches for more. He needs the fix really badly. He injects through his neck.
It’s evening again. Two people are talking outside the door. A woman and a man walk in, she is showing him the apartment. He is a prospective buyer / tenant.
“My son must be here”, the woman says looking at the bags in the hallway.
“Louis! Louis!”, she walks in to the bedroom. Louis is on the floor, white foam coated around his mouth. Unconscious. So is the girl.
Paramedics carry the couple down the stairs, into the waiting ambulances. People are milling around.
The girl wakes up in the hostpital, strapped to the bed. She screams, kicks. A nurse comes in to give her a sedative. She is calm now.
She opens her eyes and sees a kind-looking man leaning over her.
“I’m your doctor”, he says. “When did you last have your period?” “I don’t know” she says. “I don’t remember.” “You are 8 weeks in. It’s up to you if you want to keep it, but whatever decision you make, we’ll take care of you.” “Where’s Louis?” “The young man? He was inanimate. He died.” “I want to get out of here”, she says.
So what does she do? Will she find refuge from a past that will be her future?
François Ozon’s latest deals with the theme that runs through all of his films: that of familial discontent and failed parentage. When Louis’s family gives her an ultimatum that she abort, Mousse (the girl) resorts to find refuge in a country house by the beach. Her pregnancy reminds her of her guilt (“why did Louis die and I didn’t?”), but she clings to his memory - the baby.
When Louis’s gay brother visits her on his way to Spain, her pregnancy ceases to be a reminder, but a burden. Will she fail to protect the child as she failed to protect Louis? And why is Paul (the brother) so good to her?
Less flashy than some of his previous efforts, Ozon shows a more mature, measured style here. He lets the story progress at its own pace, the rhythm never falters. Isabelle Carré (as Mousse, the girl) is simply fantastic and its her honest and true performance that carries the film. Unless it was an astonishing piece of prosthetic work, she looks like she was really pregnant - ultimate method acting, perhaps?
The Refuge is not a perfect film. It’s not even Ozon’s best film, that honour belongs to See the Sea (1997). But it is very well-acted, unsettling, and challenging nonetheless.