For a filmmaker who won international acclaim primarily with edgy psychological thrillers, François Ozon has developed a ruminative, almost meditative streak in his recent work on family dynamics and the specter of death. Hideaway continues his recent themes of mortality and maternity, charting the dilemmas and choices of Mousse (Isabelle Carré), a Parisian in her 30s who survives the heroin jag that takes the life of her boyfriend Louis (Melvil Poupaud in a nearly silent, haunting cameo). Carrying her late lover's child, which she chooses to keep partly out of defiance, she develops an initially unlikely friendship with Louis's gay brother Paul (pop singer Louis-Ronan Choisy), and Ozon's focus is on how their shifting, quietly transformative relationship provides Mousse with a barometer of her capacity for love and growth. It's an intermittently carnal but unceasingly sensual narrative: Ozon and cinematographer Mathias Raaflaub, frequently shooting in the glaring coastal sunlight of Mousse's titular refuge, often dote on flesh in subjective close-up, from Carré's authentically swollen belly (she was six months pregnant when production began) to Choisy's tanned back and sand-coated feet. In Mousse's eyes, her fertile body and the willowy frame of Paul fill the void left by Louis's OD, with the ambiguously intimate brother and gestating child serving as surrogate love objects, and then something more.
Though Ozon, both in his recent tragicomic fable Ricky and here, seems fascinated by motherhood, he doesn't offer it as an antidote to misery; it's apparently, as Bette Davis once said of old age, not for sissies. Louis's bitter, mourning mother (Claire Vernet) curtly offers Mousse the family doctor's services for an abortion at her son's funeral, as she'd rather her departed child "not have any descendants." In another brief, sterling scene, Mousse encounters a bubbly older woman (Marie Rivière) on the beach who showers her with a torrent of compliments, then swiftly turns to assuring her of the sacrificial pain of childbirth and eventual abandonment: "He will hurt you when he leaves!" Quaffing doses of methadone syrup that have replaced surreptitious gulps of mini-bottled liquor, Mousse is no open book. Her struggles with who she is and confusion over who she wants to be is reinforced by Carré's quicksilver emotions and changing appearance; she can recall early Nicole Kidman frostiness or prime Jennifer Jason Leigh vulnerability, depending on how she's lit and dressed. An encounter with a middle-aged man who lusts for some mother-to-be action, which Mousse instinctively invites, then bails on with embarrassment before asking for what she needs, is a marvel of pace and characterization.
It's too bad that Choisy, who is Carré's partner for the last two-thirds of the film, functions mostly as a sounding board or registers as a blandly handsome, piano-playing cipher. A couple of narrative ellipses are hard to overlook in retrospect: On what basis does Mousse invite Paul, a virtual stranger, to her seaside home, and isn't her final judgment of him an unjustified leap of faith, a Gallic Capraism that fits in neatly with the ideal of a nice, nurturing, cultured "post-gay" queer? Though Paul listens well and is solicitous of her expressions of grief, when Mousse stares at him and proclaims, "You're different," it's hard not to think, "Not different enough." Though he starts an affair with her grocery deliveryman, Paul brings her along for a night of clubbing and spays himself with Louis's cologne; he may not be a junkie, but his mellower party vibe seems what she values most in him, at least until the dubious climax. But though Ozon and Mathieu Hippeau's script can't deliver a satisfying resolution, Carré's cool, calm star turn keeps Hideaway anchored in moment-to-moment reality. Mousse may fear she is fated to be a lousy mother, but the actress nurses the movie to success.