Hideaway (Le Refuge)

“Hideaway,” director François Ozon’s study of loss, connection and renewal means to be a heartbreaking tale about the unlikely bond that develops between two drifting souls. The drama pairs up a pregnant and recovering heroin addict with her late lover’s gay half brother, who’s estranged from his wealthy, emotionally cold family. But, for all its sincere intentions, “Hideaway” is clueless in matters of human choice and behavior, as Ozon masks his lack of sensitivity to the material with his characteristic cerebral detachment and pretense to subtlety.

After her lover Louis (Melvil Poupaud) dies from overdose, his girlfriend Mousse (Isabelle Carré) learns she’s pregnant with his child. Despite the urging of Louis’ stern mother (Claire Vernet) to terminate the pregnancy, Mousse decides to carry her child to term as her way of mourning and of staying connected with Louis. She repairs to a beachside retreat – which also happens to belong to her father, the man who sexually abused her when she was a teenager – to wait out her pregnancy and recover from her addiction. But she has a conflicted attitude towards her unborn child – on the one hand, it’s a testament to her and Louis’s relationship but, on the other, it also demands an intensity of love that she doesn’t feel ready to give.

Harboring a lifetime of resentments, most recently towards Louis’s alienating family, Mousse reluctantly allows Louis’s half brother Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy) – en route to Spain – to spend a few days with her. Of course, Mousse and Paul warm to each other, sharing snippets of their past, while Paul dallies with Mousse’s groundskeeper Serge (Pierre Louis-Calixte) and Mousse keeps to herself, swigging methadone, when she isn’t having bizarre encounters such as when a demented woman, enamored of Mousse’s pregnant belly, makes urgent pleas for the expectant mother to be unconditionally devoted to her child. Even more bizarre is when a man fixated on pregnant women, takes Mousse to his room where they both find mutual, fully clothed satisfaction.

Hardly any of the “Hideway’s” conversations and episodes bring us to a close sympathy for its characters. Of their motives, we gain an academic understanding thanks to dialogue covering Paul’s family past or Mousse’s psychological repression. But Ozon’s direction and his script (co-written with Mathieu Hippeau’s script) trade on surfaces: Mousse and Paul express concern for each other, but there is no sense of unselfish sacrifice or affection between them. The one opportunity in which Ozon could have explored that idea – that is, Mousse’s evolving relationship with her child – is dealt with in throwaway fashion using that most convenient of plot devices: the letter, written in this case from Mousse to Paul, absolving herself of the responsibilities of parenting – as if a child were a pet. Mousse’s “sacrificial” gesture feels utterly false, irresponsible and the final straw in a movie that asks much of its audience but gives back so little in return.

The performances from Carré (who real-life pregnancy is in full view here) and Choisy (a pop star in France) are compelling enough, if aloof to a fault. Meanwhile, Ozon tries repeatedly to make up for his observational shortcomings with bursts of sentimentality: A sweet song, a tender gesture, a fit of sobbing, or, most obviously, an image of Mousse and Paul playing together in the ocean, all meant to appeal to our hearts but which evaporate in “Hideaway’s” unrevealing emptiness.

Grade: D

Directed by: François Ozon
Written by: François Ozon, Mathieu Hippeau
Cast: Isabelle Carré, Louis-Ronan Choisy, Pierre Louis-Calixte, Melvil Poupaud, Claire Vernet, Jean-Pierre Andréani

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