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January 26, 2011 / Siobhan Argent

Hideaway (Le Refuge)


Published 30/11/10 at www.artshub.com.au

Hideaway (Le Refuge) is a French film that starts off bleak and somehow ends getting bleaker. In a quietly devastating opening sequence, Mousse (Isabelle Carré) and her boyfriend Louis (Melvil Poupaud) are trying to find spare veins in their skin to inject heroin. When both overdose and Mousse is found comatose, she wakes to learn that Louis is dead and she is eight weeks pregnant to him. Rather than face the outside world again, she cleans herself up and escapes to a house in the French countryside for the term of her pregnancy. When Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy), Louis’ quiet and reserved brother shows up, a complex yet predictable relationship begins to develop between them.

Paul and Mousse seek refuge from reality in a summer hideaway in the French countryside. You would think, then, that such isolation from society would inspire some feelings of freedom, emotional or otherwise. But their feelings are ensconced in a hyperbolic display of moroseness that obfuscates real meaning rather than illuminating it. Director François Ozon (Swimming Pool), keeps it sparse and simple, allowing a truly melodramatic atmosphere to shine through, but giving the audience little to grasp in terms of character or feeling. And oh, how it would be nice to care about the fate of these two characters. But in a film that is sparse, emotionally distant and so decidedly a French film of the new wave, their guarded emotion moves the audience but little.

To be fair, Mousse is vulnerable, reserved and clearly damaged from past experience. But her reticence to open up is compounded by Paul’s placating attitude, which tells us nothing more but that he is sympathetic towards her situation when few other people even care about her existence. The pair play a long and complicated game of cat and mouse; when she is frustrated, he is consoling. But when Serge (Pierre Louis-Calixte) begins to intrude on their tête-à-tête, Paul is quite clearly unaware of the kind of trouble he is stirring.

Then there are the telltale new-wave French cinema techniques that condemn this film to a feeling of pomposity; the long silences broken by short and soft musical interludes, the sequences showing nothing more than people looking, and Mousse’s unbroken stare straight into the camera as her final act leaves the audience squirming, most likely uncomfortable with the heartless romanticism of her decision. And that is not a contradiction; her romanticism is a kind of poetic emotional death, sapped of feeling.

But it is this at-arm’s-length approach that alienates; Mousse and her guarded nature cannot carry this film on their own. It is, in the end, a movie centred on hiding away, and Mousse is the most hidden character of all in a film that is more of a duet than an ensemble cast. Were it less focused on artistic composition and more on storytelling, it may have succeeded in pulling this audience member into the quagmire of life in Le Refuge.

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