★★★ / ★★★★
Louis (Melvil Poupaud) and Mousse (Isabelle Carré), drug addicts, crash in a posh apartment. The next day, when the owner (Claire Vernet) enters the place to give a tour for a potential renter, she sees her dead son, Louis, on the floor with foam around his mouth. Mousse wakes up in a hospital, limbs tied to the bed. The doctor comes in and informs her that not only is her boyfriend dead, she has been in a coma and is carrying a child.
Based on the screenplay by François Ozon and Mathieu Hippeau, “Le refuge” is at times difficult to watch, especially its first few minutes, because of its unflinching honesty about people making very bad decisions and the consequences they must face.
I was fascinated in the way the camera is unblinking toward Mousse and Paul’s heroin addiction. Watching the two of them crave for the drug is like observing mice scavenging for food because they have not eaten in days. I watched in horror and curiosity as they search for veins in their arms, ankles, and necks that can serve as entry points for the needle. Even though the scene is disturbing, the camera is unafraid to look closely at a bruised arm. I felt like there is a story to each pinkish purple spot and it made me wonder if the characters are at all afraid that something might eventually go very wrong.
I admired that the material is brave enough to allow the audience to feel uncomfortable. Mousse’s pregnancy is handled with coldness when Louis’ mother finds out about it. She says, with arrogance, that Mousse should just abort the fetus because pregnant women who have a drug addiction compromises the child being born healthy. While there is truth in her reasoning, I found it distasteful that she uses Mousse’s addiction to hide what really bothers her about the predicament. Louis’ mother is a successful and proud woman. I gathered, at least from the little time we are given to get to know her, she is most concerned about her family’s reputation more than her potential grandchild who, by the way, is a direct link to her deceased son.
As our judgments toward the characters begin to accumulate, the picture jumps forward two months when Paul (Louis-Ronan Coisy), Louis’ brother, moves into the seaside home where Mousse plans to stay until she has delivered the baby. Paul is to spend two days with her before heading to Spain.
Paul and Mousse wanting to know more about each other is the heart of the picture and their relationship is dealt with clarity. Paul is a symbol of what Mousse can no longer have. No matter how much he reminds her of Louis, Paul is not and will never be his brother. Further, there is one detail about her guest that ensures Mousse can never be with him.
For Paul, Mousse is a symbol of what he has lost forever. Later, it is revealed that the brothers were never close, that all Paul recalls about Louis is that his sibling was an angry person. Through Paul and Mousse’s interactions, it becomes clear to us how much they, in their own ways, are still grieving.
“Hideaway,” directed by François Ozon, is a high caliber drama because it unfolds in a natural, beautiful, and intimate way with conclusions that are difficult to absorb and accept. I felt closer to the characters somehow and I was convinced that their story is based on someone else’s real circumstances, feelings, and choices.