Hideaway (Le Refuge)

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By Armond White

At the heart of François Ozon’s Hideaway (Le Refuge)—the story of Mousse (Isabelle Carré), who goes to the country in the final months of expecting a child and takes in the late-father’s brother Paul (Louis-Ronan Choisy)—director Ozon asks an excellent question: What do a pregnant woman and a gay man have in common?

The belly in bikini fetish is back.

If this were a Hollywood movie, that question would be a marketing point and its provocation would surely affect the movie’s structure like the pre-determined culture-war politics of Lisa Cholodenko’s sitcomy The Kids Are All Right. But Ozon’s artistry transcends politics and explores the essential issues of his characters’ personalities: Mousse’s unyielding selfishness and Paul’s own displaced affections; both are unsure what to do with their unconventional feelings. Appreciating that commonality makes Ozon’s dramatic proposition a bold, excellent premise. He finds surprising truth and recognizable beauty in Mousse and Paul’s uneasy empathy.

Ozon has progressed from being art-cinema’s taboo-breaking bad boy (his 1997 debut See the Sea). He’s grown into a more original, deeply felt, first-rate artist. His interest in renegade characters and disturbing life situations has gained a distinct spiritual generosity (as in last year’s literally fantastic family-angel comedy Ricky). Mousse and Paul are depicted without sensationalism or provocation, but with an exploratory acceptance that is never merely P.C. The title Hideaway (Le Refuge) indicates an escape from propriety to what is spiritually necessary. Ozon arrived at this philosophically astute destination through an improvisatory collaboration with Carré, begun during her actual sixth month of pregnancy, and with French singer-songwriter Choisy, who also contributed the ironic disco scene tune “We Don’t Need People To Be
In Love.”

Through Ozon’s always-reliable eye for the most alluring actors (Carré recalls Kirsty MacColl and Choisy is a ringer for Melvil Poupaud), Hideway more deeply explores womanly and gay male feelings. It achieves the absolutely ethical vision that earlier filmmakers had struggled toward—like the 1979 Canadian film Outrageous, which paired a runaway pregnant girl with a drag queen, and Tony Richardson’s 1961 film of Shelagh Delaney’s play A Taste of Honey, which teamed a Liverpool unwed teen with a gay man.

Advancing from those past but not-obsolete social protests, Ozon finds some affinities that might even challenge contemporary feminist shibboleths. Yet Mousse and Paul are never at war and their separate adventures—Paul’s romance with the caretaker Serge (Pierre Louis-Calixte), Mousse’s hook-up with a married man (Nicolas Moreau) who fetishizes pregnancy—complement each other’s needs and temperament. Every sequence is an etude, but not obviously so. Ozon expands our awareness of human affection, evoking the remarkable narrative symmetry of Rodrigo Garcia’s Mother and Child and a beach confrontation with Marie Riviere as a maternity fanatic recalls the eerie grace of Riviere’s mentor Eric Rohmer.

It’s important—and maybe even controversial—that Ozon avoids the propagandistic narrowness of The Kids Are All Right, which seems to have dangerously set an aberrant moralizing norm. Cholodenko’s phallo-phobic polemics (where Annette Bening casts out sperm donor and willing parent Mark Ruffalo) argued that a male is irrelevant to family stability. This recalls a narrow-minded Village Voice review that castigated Ozon’s 2006 Time to Leave because its gay male protagonist desired to father a child. Hideaway continues Ozon’s brave apostasy that procreation (parenthood) is our nature. It’s undeniably part of what unites Mousse and Paul—renegades who don’t opt out of their humanity. This isn’t a Conservative argument; nor is it anti-Paternity. It extends and enlarges Ozon’s gay-friendly vision. The iconic shot of a gay man and pregnant woman bonding in the ocean is a rich, embracing image, akin to the seduction scene where a robust male sensitively submits to Mousse’s innocent request.

In these scenes, Ozon has loosened his early, postmodern tension and pessimism. He’s now open to greater feeling—not ever sappy, always inquiring, as in the moment Paul wrestles with awareness of his own adoption then remembers his late brother (a cameo by Melvil Poupaud). The two edited close-ups arouse the sensitivity of that extraordinary Neyo lyric: “I fell asleep in your eyes.” Radical Ozon achieves the ultimate humanism where the oddest relationships are the most human. Nothing that is human is alien to Ozon.

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Hideaway (Le Refuge)
Directed by François Ozon
Runtime: 90 min.

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