Hideaway (Le Refuge)

France (2009) Dir. François Ozon

Mousse (Isabelle Carré) and Louis (Melvil Poupaud) are a young Parisian couple both hopelessly addicted to drugs. When Louis dies after an overdose, Mousse survives and discovers she is pregnant. Louis’s rich mother (Claire Vernet) is ashamed of how her son died and tells Mousse she’ll arrange an abortion. Alone and scared, Mousse runs away to a small house where Louis’s brother Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy)  tracks her down and stays for a while.

French auteur François Ozon is certainly a prolific filmmaker, able to turn his hand to pretty much every genre and style, usually with great results. In Le Refuge we find him in a low key mode with this straightforward and intimate tale of two people sharing a bond of pain and grief, which was written around the real life pregnancy of leading lady Isabelle Carré. It is also a keen character study as both protagonists have their own crosses to bear and find themselves bringing the best out of each other despite their obvious differences and inability to read the other.

Little is given away about the fated couple other than Louis seems to be a musician and Mousse his muse. In a tiny flat they appear to spend their days in a toxic haze, their bodies ravaged to the point that Mousse has to take a heroin injection in her ankle, such is the poor state of her arm. Similarly the fatal injection Louis takes is in his neck, his dead body found by his visiting mother since Mousse was off with the fairies. The funeral – where we learn Louis is from affluent stock – is an uncomfortable experience for Mousse who is still confused and unsure about what to do with the baby, which is certainly not helped by Louis’s mother’s emotionally cold and selfish order to abort it – her attitude being they’d rather Louis not have a descendant especially now he is dead, especially with a junkie for a mother.

With such a heartless ultimatum put to her, it is a wonder that Mousse didn’t take her up no the offer then OD herself to a reunion with Louis in the great drug den in the sky. Paul’s arrival at the country house surprises Mousse and believing he is an apple with little distance between him and his maternal tree, his presence is grudgingly accepted. But he has some secrets of his own, the biggest one being his homosexuality which might explain why his mother is equally as cold towards him as she was Mousse. There is a reason for this revealed later on, but the big issue is how Paul’s preferences do not stop sparks flying between the two, although Paul’s relationship with Mousse’s errand boy brings out her jealous side with unexpected results.

As ever, Ozon is keen to cover many issues, the main thrust being a look at pregnancy and what makes a suitable parent. Louis and Paul’s mother is quick to strike herself of the list of admirable candidates, with Mousse scoring a point for at least keeping the baby, believing Louis lives on in the child. However old habits die hard and despite being eight months done the line Mousse still can’t stop with the beer or the prescription methadone, something the baby could do without. At least she stopped smoking. Elsewhere Mousse’s ego is boosted when a man with an attraction to pregnant women (except his own wife) picks her up at a café and takes her home, for a non-sexual but ego flattering afternoon. This should, and does, feel creepy but the positive effect it has on Mousse is immeasurable.

It is the downplayed, unpolished filming style that creates this aura of unease around the pregnancy issue along with the understated and nuanced performance of the irrepressible Isabelle Carré. An actress who is somehow capable of physically and emotionally adapting to any role, Carré’s genuine pregnancy naturally brings legitimacy to much of the depictions of the internal stresses only the mother-to-be experiences. Mousse’s mood changes with the wind and Ozon reflects this with the lighting of each scene, dark for her down days and light for her jovial moments. Ironically one Mousse’s most uncomfortable moments comes while out at the beach on a sunny day, while she has a moment of unbridled ecstasy in a dark night club.

Ozon again subverts our acceptance of a dark subject by making a scene where Louis and Mousse are shooting up together into something quite tender and sexual. This is not to glamorise drug use but to show the bond it has created for the tragic couple and does a fine job of defining the love that Mousse is about to lose. Throw in a homosexual would-be-lover-not-lover-soon-to-be-uncle and we have a world in which a rather confused new born baby will soon enter and this is the charm of this film – we are sympathetic to someone who doesn’t even exists for the majority of the film’s brief 84 minute run time!

It wouldn’t be an Ozon film without an ambiguous and slightly dour ending so in that respect he doesn’t disappoint – neither does Isabelle Carré who once again delivers a remarkable mesmerising performance rich with her unique flair for creating utterly fascinating yet resolutely human characters. Le Refuge is not necessarily an immediate film as far as resonance and impact but it is one that scores with the lingering after effects of the final frame; then you get it. A quietly haunting little film.