The hell of reformatories has often been a hot topic in film and television. Among the most notable references, we of course think of the masterpiece by Alan Clarke, Scum, released in 1979, or more recently Dog Pound, by Frenchman Kim Chapiron, released in 2010. With Refuge, director Marc Brummund anchors his story in real life by telling the fate of Wolfgang Rosenkötter, who in 1961 spent fifteen months within the walls of the Freistatt recovery camp in Germany. The film, broadcast on May 22 at 8:50 p.m. on Arte, is directly inspired by his testimony and the book which was dedicated to him in 2006, entitled Schläge im Namen des Herrn and co-wrote with journalist Peter Wensierski.
1968. Young Wolfgang, fourteen, is a lively, passionate boy, loved by his friends, whom he often trains to break the rules. Pampered by his mother, with whom he shares a fusional, almost incestuous love, the adolescent finds himself, however, confronted with the hatred of his stepfather who sends him to a disciplinary home for several months. Arrived at the scene, Wolfgang discovers a world he had never suspected before. Supervised by unscrupulous educators and daily religious rites, the center becomes the nucleus of exacerbated violence, which forces young boarders to abandon their innocence to embrace their monstrosity.
History of violence
The feature film – which has never benefited from a cinema outing in France – paints a powerful portrait of a hero, brilliantly interpreted by Louis Hofmann, who is reminiscent of the character of Antoine Doinel in Les Quatre hundred strokes. However, Refuge stands out strongly from François Truffaut’s film for its brutality and its torture sequences, physical as well as psychological, filmed without filter in front of Marc Brummund’s camera. The direction of the filmmaker is simple, even if effective, to further highlight the darkness of his story. The violence which reigns under the roof of this institute, expressed by the blows and the excesses of rage, makes resurface a new face in the young protagonists, who are transformed as the story progresses. Trapped in a system turned to fear and intimidation, they will have to relate to their survival instincts to face the authority of the director and his employees.
However, Refuge never indulges in gratuity and is not content to be yet another sensationalist drama. The film uses, on the contrary, its strong images to serve a historical purpose and perform a duty of memory. After the end of the Second World War, many centers, such as that of Freistatt, welcomed young Germans to subject them to mistreatment and forced labor with the aim of improving their education. In total, more than 800,000 boys and girls would have been admitted to three thousand institutes after 1945. Beyond its dramatic intensity, Refuge is a necessary work, which highlights an often forgotten period and which pays a fine tribute to the victims of this system of repression. Former residents of these centers will not be compensated until 2010 by the German government.
After its release, the film is available for replay on the site d’Arte until June 20, 2020.