Sunday, January 24, 2010

Firelight, Sophie Marceau très chic despite décolletage hump

Here is a period drama with arthouse aspirations. What is an arthouse movie, or do we call them indie movies now? In primary school I thought they were weird foreign movies that won awards. Now they’re a way to punish my partner when he makes me watch five Battlefield 2142 trailers in a row.

Firelight (1997) is a movie with Ms Marceau, her monoboob and the pleasant surprise of Stephen Dillane. My friend Ally recommended it so I’ll try to review it seriously, extolling its virtues and be nicer than usual. This review has mild spoilers but nothing you wouldn’t learn from seeing the movie posters.

“She was hired to have a child. The love was free.”
Really? This was the tagline? There goes my straight face. I didn’t even make this up, it’s from here. Let’s start again.

The first scene in Firelight feels like a 17th century painting in motion. It tempts us with mystery and foreshadowing; the darkness lifts to reveal an empty chair and an oil lamp.

A young woman approaches warily and is kindly told to sit down.

The voice belongs to an older female out of view also whispering to another concealed person. An interview takes place with personal questions to the young woman, now shown in profile.

Suspense is heightened as neither the young or older woman are revealed close-up front-on until well into the scene. Even the third person, a gentleman, is hidden behind a screen from where he watches the young lady.

She needs money to pay her father’s debts but does not want to commit marriage to obtain it, revealing to us that she enjoys her freedom and is reluctant to marry for money. The firelight’s muted reflection flickers on the lacquered screen.
Although nervous, the young lady finds her strength and insists that the gentleman ask the questions himself. He is surprised at her daring and asks what she can tell from direct words. In turn, his voice startles her and us; it is gentle, curious, and unlike the others before it, deep and masculine. He chooses her for the task but we aren’t told what it is yet – ignoring the poster and tagline.

This scene concisely establishes the personalities of the two main characters. We see the dominant will and intelligence of the young lady despite her lower station, her grace and poise at odds to the uncomfortable interview and other indignities she has agreed to undertake.

We are also introduced to the man’s persistence on formality and secrecy, and delaying our view of him adds to the tension. There is a curious visual parallel; although she is the one evaluated like an animal in a zoo, he is the one ‘caged’ behind the crosshatch screen. She can only hide herself with composure and a smooth face.

When we finally meet the gentleman, the view is gorgeous.  As if we’ve stumbled upon his hiding place, the side profile shot suggests concealment and reluctance to engage. Contrasting with her, he has an uncontrollably expressive face. No wonder he needed a screen, in the firelight his thoughts seem to glow and burn him.

This warrior needs liquid courage before the battle. It’s awkward for both of them, but she’s clearly the stronger one - perhaps she has less to lose. At the time I didn’t see what was such a big deal for him. You need no brandy goggles for this beauty, she’s luminous by any light.

Only Sophie Marceau could make a monoboob look classy. On anyone else it’d look like a camel hump on the wrong side. She’s so chic it hurts. That little downturned pout, those melancholy eyes. “I’m too sexy for zis film”.
Seven years later the young lady Elizabeth Laurier has tracked down her daughter. Disregarding the agreement she gets a position as governess to her own child. It happens too quickly; I would have liked to see some struggle as she investigated her three-night stander, or the hardship she faced as a governess. Something to pump up the sympathy a little. Her impassive face serves great as body armour but keeps the viewer at an emotional distance.

Lake houses, glass corridors, icy fields and stony grand rooms; this movie is full of distant ethereal vistas. Her firmly calm beauty matches the frigid landscape but hides a fierce cleverness and persistent streak. I feel needy just watching the back of her head. Please Ms Marceau, teach me how to hide my thoughts so even I won’t know what I’m thinking.

I don’t know whether it’s the writer or the editor, but someone thinks the audience has the memory of a goldfish and persistently reminds us of how Firelight affects the room and the time-space continuum. For goodness sakes, it was cheesy the first time, but to repeat it over and over is torture.

"Firelight makes time stand still ...When you put out the lamps and sit in the firelight's glow there aren't any rules any more. ...when the lamps are lit again, time starts again, and everything you said or did is forgotten..."

I love Stephen Dillane in this role, even though his suffering character Charles Godwin is such a drip. Miserably trying to do the right thing in all the wrong ways. Unable to control himself or his family situation, he has an iron will over what parts he can oversee. He’s a good sheep breeder having spent 15 years culling hereditary imperfections. There’s the rub, how can he be so good at raising sheep but such a crap father? Aren’t these skills transferable? They both involve kids don’t they - or is that goats? Anyway, less time raising the perfect ewe, more time raising your girl.

Miss Elizabeth Laurier on the other hand, no power over her own situation or future, but total power over herself, or she did have until Mr Godwin came along. They have a lot in common, both trapped in their roles dictated by gender and class. She also enjoys controlling what parts of her life she can, education, painting and choice of husband.

The other reason I don’t like Mr Godwin is he's totally blind to the fact that his sister-in-law is in love with him! Why go to all the trouble and expense of finding a stranger to bear your heir when there’s someone just as qualified who’ll do it for free? Five hundred pounds down the drain if you ask me. They should have given the sister-in-law some awful hereditary affliction which would drive him to seek a fresh gene pool; otherwise it makes him look silly and undermines the whole premise of the movie.

But who cares? There’s great build up and hot hot sex. This blog permits no adult-rated content, so I had to make do with what someone sent me. I think the one on top is Miss Laurier.

The best movies end with the characters learning something, but by the end (even if it made me cry) I wasn’t sure any of the mains had learnt anything I enjoyed watching. Firelight starts far stronger than it finishes, and the artful first scene's been watch about 10 times.

I did learnt something though. How did the fire lit scenes feel so sensual when the characters were so reluctant to be there – at first? Crank up mystery and suspense, then the close-ups will give a feeling of intimacy despite the discomfort. The warmly illuminated faces against a dark background hint to many more concealed thoughts. It's helped by the sensory contrast to the ocean or snow scenes with distant and forbidding figures. Anonymity is assured; we are too far for recognition let alone read the expression on their faces.

It's a shame this movie is not well known. Does anyone remember seeing it advertised? Has anyone else seen it? If not, I recommend it for the romance or Sophie Marceau fans.

3.5 monoboobs out of 5.

I know you're reading Ally what do you think? You’re not the only Firelighter out there now. What makes this one of your favourites?


There are lots of good reviews online. Maybe Ally and I aren't the only ones who've seen it.


Maria Grazia said...

Your posts are so ...unique! Amusing and so interesting at the same time!
This is why I decided to award you!

Starheart said...

Thanks Maria!
10 things that make me happy, for the Happy 101 award, not in any specific order:
01. Time with my partner
02. Time with friends
03. Vegetarian food
04. A meaningful job
05. Social work
06. Getting enough sleep
07. Watching good tv/movies
08. Reading and writing reviews
09. Building my future house
10. Scenic walks on sunny days

As for passing it on I'll have to think about it. I don't know so many bloggers, and most of them you've already awarded!

Ally said...

Hello! Yes I was patiently waiting for your review dear Ragtag as I knew it would not only be clever and perceptive, it would cross-reference something hilarious - in this case, I applaud camel bumps and monoboobs!

Maybe it would be asking too much to apply logic to this film - that firelight nonsense, Charles' atrocious parenting skills - he really should know better- and there's an awful lot of double-slamming of doors - because despite it's dreary, almost mono-chromatic palette, this film is positively teeming with tortured melodrama. Even if it's done the French way ;)

It's Jane Eyre meets Mills & Boon. It's heaving corsets, wretched first wives, and a man torn between his personal desires and the rigid code of conduct born out of an increasingly corrupt and hypocritical world. It is irony's ground zero. Oh the repressive drama of it all!

I have to also admit a personal bias - I read and studied Jane Eyre in high school as a text of feminist awakening - and it was a problematic one. At the crisis point, the heroine retreated to a higher moral ground that was still patriarchal in structure, female desire was depicted as heathen and destructive, and power is achieved only through the hands of men - whether literal or inherited. I like that the film reverses these roles - it is Miss Laurier who devises, pursues and commits, that Charles is no saturnine Rochester but a man conflicted and weakened by domestic ties. Oh and there's even a happy ending, notwithstanding the touchy subject of euthanasia... oops, let's skate over that one please...

Sophie Marceau - indeed tres chic :)

The Zombieslayer said...

I saw this and remembered liking it, although not enough to recommend strongly. I just liked it.

Sophie Marceau is always a pleasure to see. The more of her we see, the better of course.

As for art house vs indie, the true meaning art house movies are more like something David Lynch would put out. Indie is simply low budget. The first Clerks was an indie film but not an art house film.

Avalon said...

I have not seen it advertised. It sounds interesting and a bit dull, a good rainy day movie.
I like your reviews. Looking forward to your next review.

Starheart said...

Ally I see high school English classes still have their hooks in you. You did Jane Eyre, I did Huckleberry Finn. Explains a lot doesn’t it?

I thought this movie was very ambitious in attempting such heavy issues, surrogacy, euthanasia, duty vs desire, the ethics of debt, even parenting styles! To do it properly it needed to be a mini-series and a few more re-writes. First of all I’d cut out that four-letter word uttered by the father! Isn’t the nudity flouting enough period drama convention without adding profanity too? I know, i know, too picky.

I couldn’t help noticing that double-door slam. Remember the scene with the two doors separated by a gap just wide enough for one man? Did you see that one when you toured the house?

Hi Zombieslayer, thanks for the art house/indie clarification.
“The more of her we see, the better of course.” I wish I felt the same way about Stephen Dillane; I’m kinda glad the glasshouse was fogged up.

Avalon, thanks! A lot of the movie even LOOKs like a rainy day.

Ally said...

Hey Ragtag, I did see those doors throughout the house on my tour - in fact, I used them as a delaying tactic to take my sneaky photos, hahaha!

I haven't seen Stephen Dillane in anything else except a version of Anna Karenina. Thanks, I'll be looking out for him in John Adams too :)