Le Refuge

Mousse wakes up to find her partner, Louis, dead in bed beside her from a heroin overdose. Then, she discovers she’s pregnant with his baby, and after getting clean takes refuge in a house by the sea to see out her pregnancy and survive her grief.

The word mousse means foam or froth (think chocolate) which aligns the character with the shoreline, its waves throwing up spumes of lather (the film’s theatrical poster depicts Mousse looking down at her pregnant belly before a wall of white seafoam). Mousse could also be named for the churn of grief, withdrawal and pregnancy that rage inside her, or the sea-ish roar that forms the soundscape for the baby in utero. Both Mousse and her baby are gestating in a sense, as the experience of loss forces her to be born to a new reality, a new sense of the self.

Isabelle Carré was eight months pregnant when they shot the film, which made it impossible to procure insurance for the production. As a result, much of the film was made on a very low budget and with a small crew over three weeks, with additional scenes shot after Carré had given birth. In one scene, Mousse’s pregnant belly looms out of a milky bath like a full moon, and the film’s tidal locations seem to suggest that this is a story about new beginnings, about clean starts. Yet Mousse’s decision to keep the child and her burgeoning relationship with Louis’s gay brother Paul suggest that this is as much about holding on as it is about letting go. “I’m interested in identities that are not defined yet, that are gestating,” Ozon told Electric Sheep magazine in 2010. “I want to show things that are not finished, that are being constructed, and to participate in, or rather follow, the construction of that identity. Here it’s the intimate as much as sexual identity of a young woman whose pregnancy has absolutely nothing to do with the desire to have a child, but is a means to survive an intense emotional shock after the man she loved dies.”

Le Refuge does not find easy solace in the consolation of motherhood and the state of grace which it supposedly bequeaths, but it does linger in the potentiality space of sociality: how the people and places of refuge can heal and protect the damaged self, even if we don’t expect them to. At one point, Mousse goes home with a man and asks him just to hold her. “What’s funny,” said the director, “is that Isabelle was so tired that day that she fell asleep, and I filmed her, so it was a bit accidental.” On set, as well as in the narrative, relief is found in the presence of others as much by accident as by design. ◉

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