Smells like eau de cologne – Le Refuge

This is one of those brilliant French films where nothing seems to happen on the surface but it is all going on underneath. Lingering looks an underplayed soundtrack and beautiful people set against gorgeous surroundings. This film is cool and thoughtful and mellow. 88 minutes is all we are given but it is short and bittersweet and there is plenty of time for us to delve into the heartache on screen. The setting is serene and tranquil and this is a Sunday afternoon film if ever there was one.

Le Refuge begins with Louis (Melvil Poupard) and Mousse (Isabelle Carre), a pair of rich young lovers who are holed up in Louis’s mother’s Paris apartment shooting heroin; deliberately and happily disconnecting from the real world. Some tainted drugs leave Louis dead and Mousse in a coma. When she wakes up she discovers she is pregnant, Louis’s mother pressures her to have an abortion but instead she runs off to the country. Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), Louis’s brother joins her some months later and there ensues a gentle and intriguing tale. Until Louis’s death Mousse and his family have not met or known much about each other’s existence and Mousse seems happy for it to remain that way at first. Paul is also an outsider; not only is he homosexual but his family relationships are not what they first appear – is this what draws him to Mousse?

The French are great at this sort of film, people coming together and talking and just being; living sad lives with moments of joy and mystery. There are some marvellously poignant moments in this film; Mousse spraying her bed with Louis’s cologne, necking her methadone on the steps of a country house, dancing with abandonment in a club. As we watch her watching Paul and Serge (her delivery man played by Pierre Louis-Calixte and Paul’s new flame) kissing passionately outside a club or being propositioned by a man who is into pregnant women but finding a different solace when she returns to his hotel room we get transported into her inner world.

In her refuge Mousse is forced to confront her addiction whilst still trying to maintain her insularity and ignore her grief. Her pregnancy is also an alien thing to her everyone around her seems to want to touch her belly and offer advice but she is reluctant to do so herself and she does not talk to or acknowledge the baby much at all. She hides her grief as best as she can but Paul seems to being her out of herself and we only see her cry when Paul leaves, finally the enormity of her isolation is felt.

Paris at the beginning of the film is grey and cold but always glorious on film. When the action moves to the French countryside by the sea, the refuge, it is the perfect setting for Mousse and Paul to unwind and relax and ultimately find tenderness with each other. The music reflects the contrasting setting with jarring unmelodious strained strings in Paris and nostalgic piano music at the refuge.

Isabelle Carre is brilliant, compelling and other worldly. Louis-Ronan Choisy in his debut as Paul is magnificent; natural and boyish with charm and grace, comfortable in his physicality and a welcome male presence for Mousse.

Francois Ozon has made yet another film that touches us on an inner plane. This film leaves you feeling happy and sad and wishing you had a refuge of your own; we all need to get away for a while and just be. Le Refuge starts with a death and ends with a birth but is it the birth of a baby or of Mousse’s foray back to the living? Why can’t the UK film industry make films like this?

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