Sunday, May 6, 2012

Film Review: Firelight

This is the first film review that I have poached off someone else :-)

This one is bare-faced thievery of Danny's intellectual property.
I was so impressed with this film when I complied with His Majesty's command to do my 'homework' that I thought I should do an in-depth review on the film here at The Sanctuary.

Anything to get to the top of the class.
And to you all sniggering at the back, it's not such a bad deal being teacher's pet.



I was genuinely enchanted by this film.

That it was recommened by a man astounded me somewhat.
But then again, so many of you would know that Danny ain't just any man.

But he's nonetheless an irreverent rogue.
To him, the best thing about this film is the lead actress' TITTIES (capital letters).
*rolls eyes*

My womanly jealousy aside, it must be said that Sophie Marceau is indeed a very elegant woman.
In French or English she manages to impress.
She somehow possesses this brooding, smouldering beauty not commonly seen in modern Hollywood.
In a far-off way she reminds me of Charlotte Rampling, another one with 'brooding beauty'.
I think it's the eyes...

Ms. Marceau played Electra King in 'James Bond: The world is not enough'.
Nuff said.

In 'Firelight', set in England somewhere, she plays a french-speaking Swiss woman whose widowed father is in prison because of his debts. She agrees to become a surrogate mother for a man (whose wife is in a coma from a horse-riding accident) who wants a child but because of his high standing in society, wants to keep the origins of his child a secret.

After a brief and bizarre interview with a go-between, 22-year old Elisabeth Laurier gets the 'job'.
It is incredible to see that just 150 years ago, a 22-year old woman could be this mature.

Something I find particularly intriguing in this scene is when she is asked to stand up and turn around so she can be 'perused' by the man (who is hidden from view at this point), she in turn demands to hear him speak so that she can hear his voice.
Many men are visual.
And an awful lot of women are auditory.
When he asks what she can tell from a voice, she discreetly answers 'a little'.
But being an auditory woman myself, I know the true answer is, a lot.

So this 'arrangement' was never going to be a 'normal' situation.
But if they were going to do what they were going to do, each of them had to build up some sort of 'attraction' albeit a baseline one. Because this was very much required given the task ahead.
Either of them could pass up on the arrangement if the threshold of this basic attraction was not reached.

She and Charles Godwin (whose name she doesn't know until much later in the film) meet up in an island hotel by the sea (I think it might have been on the island of Jersey or Guernsey, as french seems to be spoken here) and spend three evenings together in order to achieve their shared goal.

Now, make no mistake about it, I prepared myself to feel creeped out by the scenes of their encounters.

A Swiss woman who desperately needs money to bail her debt-ridden father out of prison ships herself to England to sleep with some unknown gentleman to have his child for £500. In 1838.
My first thought was, how horrible is that?

But actually, I took myself down a peg or two.
In 1838, a woman with no 'old money' or 'family money' and no husband could find herself in tricky situations.
It is also worth noting that Switzerland was a very poor country, unlike now.
The tradition of Swiss governesses and Pontifical Swiss Guards was one of few ways young women and men could earn their living.
An important facet of this film is Elisabeth's desperate attempt to prevent history repeating itself with her own child.
More on this later.

I was surprised at how I felt watching them interact.

Somehow my hamster is able to spin this in such a way to me that I can totally see this whole thing as 'surrogacy' as opposed to good old-fashioned prostitution.

Interestingly, the option of marriage as a way of obtaining the money she needs was brought up at her 'interview'.
Elisabeth mused that that woud be akin to 'selling herself' for life'. She preferred the shorter encounter she was about to have with Charles.

Of course that's an insightful way to view marriage.
Many modern men feel this way about marriage today, whereas women in general tend to have a much more positive view of it :-)

But let's not forget that in 1838, marriage was really not much more than a business transaction.
Things got all weird and confusing when we all tried to marry for  'love'.
'Whatever love means', to quote a famous prince in 1981.

It is noteworthy that Elisabeth is a very composed young lady. So much so, that she is arresting.
She is also naturally very beautiful, but her manner suggests that she either doesn't know it, or she doesn't care.
Which paradoxically, increases her appeal to such dizzying heights that it goes through the roof.
And, with an 'epic rack' to boot, well, she is any man's not so dry dream.

Charles is a much older man.
But with a body like that, no-one cares :-)

Elisabeth is initially reticient, as you would expect from a 22-year old woman of her generation.
(To be fair, he didn't exactly look comfortable either).
Most likely a virgin, she would have had 'cold feet'.
But you wouldn't have guessed it.
She had this steely quality about her that saw her being extremely business-like in the most unusual of circumstances.
At one point (much later), Charles asks her: 'How can you be so calm?'
She replies that she isn't in fact calm.
Which you instinctively know is the truth.
She just appears so because she is very disciplined and self-sacrificing.

Charles is also a selfless man.
As Elisabeth points out before their first night together, neither of them is there at that hotel for their own selfish pleasures.
She is there because she needs the money for her father, and he because he has a wife who can't provide him with an heir (something he needs, not just wants).

By the second night, Elisabeth warms up to Charles.
In a manner similar to Hammond Maxwell, he is a very likeable man, not least because he cares for her dignity (and this is not the most dignified situation for any woman to be in - and he appears to be mindful of this). Just before their first sexual encounter, he notes that the fire in the hotelroom gave more light than one would expect and he asked if this troubled her?
Incredible sensitivity from a man who is afterall just a stranger to this young woman.
It is worth noting that this has such a profound effect on her that when he says this again many years later, it is all it takes to re-ignite the fire within her :-)
His giving her the time to 'accustom herself ' is also noteworthy and shows his nice attempt to make this delicate situation bearable for her.
And yet Charles is not a wimpy man.
Not by any means.

By the time they depart from the hotel, I am convinced Elisabeth is already in love with him. But there is no indication of it yet.
And I daresay, he appears to be smitten too. He is struck by her maturity and yet, her surprisingly fun side.
In a weird conversation by the sea he ends up asking her if she had liked their encounter.
Hm, was this out of genuine concern for her, or was he just fishing for the ultimate manly compliment?

Elisabeth was initially unusually harsh in her answer.
But when she saw the reaction her answer elicited in Charles, she made an excellent recovery.
All this in a situation which was far from normal.

When she gives birth to their daughter nine months later, she is treated well and caringly by the midwives/household staff of Charles, but she has to watch as her baby is taken away without so much as a look at her newborn infant.

Thereafter, she lives the life one would expect. That of a non-mother mother.
To pass the time, she keeps a diary of flower and leaf paintings to mark the birthdays of 'her English daughter'.

Finally, after 7 years, unable to take the pain anymore, she tracks down Charles and manouevres to get a job as a governess to her now 7-year old daughter.

Spoiled rotten by her Papa, Louisa Godwin is the ultimate Daddy's little princess.
All the staff in the Godwin household are not holding their breath for Elisabeth's success in 'taming' the little tearaway. She has already gotten rid of 4 governesses...

Of course there is a reason behind Louisa's bad behaviour.
She knows the woman in the coma upstairs is not her mother. Neither is the sister of said coma woman who now manages the Godwin household on behalf of her sister.
Louisa is a kid with mother-hunger.
But only Elisabeth can see that.
It soon becomes clear that when she is 'hiding out' in the lake-house, she is there with her imaginary mother.
Having grown up with no mother because her own mother died in childbirth, she was the only one in the entire house who can truly identify with Louisa.
And of course, she is also Louisa's mother.

But no-one but a bewildered Charles knows this.

And Elisabeth was an honourable woman.
As she explained to Charles, her own inner feeling of loss and emptiness had led her to track her baby down.
Having found Louisa, she was not about to blurt out the secret and dishonour their agreement.

At first Charles wants Elisabeth out of hs house. He was not involved in the hiring of her and was shocked when Connie his sister-in-law introduced her as the new governess.
But after he calmed down, he agreed to give her a month's notice. So she could at least find a new job.

In that time, Elisabeth had to 'game' Louisa into obedience.
This was the crux of Danny's interest in this film. Apart from the mammary tissue :-)

Now, Elisabeth was a natural alpha if ever there was one! Unlike me, she knows how to handle children, and actually, anyone.

She manoeuvres her way round Louisa's tantrums and 'fitness tests' and even finds a way to penetrate the little girl's emotional manipulation of her father.

Elisabeth's primary mission, as she states to Charles in one of their  bitter 'battle of the parents', was to make Louisa lovable to all. And able to function as an independent woman.
Charles' spoiling her was not helping Louisa any.
Already, the household staff couldn't bear her.
Elisbeth was quick to see that a few more years of this and Louisa would be a veritable monster. She was desperate to prevent this.

Charles was a bright man. But it took him a while nonetheless to see what a blessing Elisabeth was to his daughter. Her daughter too, no less.
In a fit of rage against Elisabeth, he threatens her, that in the event of her harming his beloved little girl....
Forgeting that he was talking to the mother of said little girl.

It is testament to Elisabth's calm, composed self that she is able to point out gently to him that she is in fact the very last person on Earth who would harm Louisa...

She had of course, a secondary mission where Louisa was concerned.
She wanted to just be there, alongside her daughter.
She herself had had no mother growing up.
She did not want that existence for her own daughter.
And tragically, she could not tell her daughter the truth about who she really was.

But slowly, she began to turn things around with Louisa.
It would take a mother's love and patience, but eventually the pair got there.

Memories of firelight are brought to the fore when Elisabeth tries to get Louisa to see how by learning to read, she could open up a whole new world to herself. In a clever analogy using the concept of firelight, Elisabeth gets this message across.
Louisa clearly must have been impressed. Off she went to Daddy to tell him about this one lesson she had learned.

The memory of this took Charles back to that hotel room 8 years ago.
It is not long before he and Elisabeth are thrown together once again :-)

Which throws a massive spanner in the works for two others for whom I have massive respect and sympathy.

First there is Constance (Connie), the incredibly supportive, loving and almost saintly sister of Amy, Charles' wife. Connie is in love with Charles, and has been for years, but he has never loved her, for he would have long done something about it, despite her claims that there was some sort of law that prevented a man from marrying his wife's sister. (I never heard of such a law, by the way).

She has effectively been Charles' wife in every way but one for ten years.
Charles likes her. But it ends there.
Poor Connie.
She is waiting and hoping, all these years.
And then some upstart governess from Switzerland comes in and pips her to the post. (She, like everyone else, is not to know the history between Charles and Elisabeth).

Both Connie and Elisabeth are principled women, in slightly different ways, but unlike Elisabeth, Connie is desperately unlucky.
I find Connie beautiful too, by the way. But I am willing to accept that her beauty is more a 'niche' market than Elisabeth's more sultry type.
She definitely smiles more than Elisabeth, who seems to have a permanent frown on her face that strangely enough doesn't take anything away from her beauty.

And then there is Mr. Taylor, Charles' American business partner who is a respectable sheep farmer.
I feel so sorry for this man!
When Elisabeth arrives, he is quick to spot her potential as a wife. Which is not too difficult, because frankly, even an idiot like me could see it :-)

He is rather surprised that Charles seems indifferent to her, and he (rightly) feels that Charles has 'first refusal' rights to her.
When Charles confirms that he isn't interested, he makes clear his intention to ask for Elisabeth's hand in marriage as he was soon to return to America.

Elisabeth is a classy woman. Because of her complicated situation, of course she has to reject Mr. Taylor. But the dignified manner in which she does this deserves special mention.

Caelaeno once asked me what's the best way to politely turn down a man.
Caelaeno, here's a perfect example of how to do this with kindness and yet with firmness:

Somehow I cannot embed this video.

I have no doubt that Mr. Taylor would have left Elisabeth's presence with his sense of manhood upheld, and his respect for women, especially her, well intact. She applied her b*tch shield alright, but she wasn't b*tchy about it.

The strength of Elisabeth's character is further demonstrated when Charles' ever-irreverent father is rather uncouth with her.
The question 'Are you doing my son?' (I paraphrase) can appear very crude to a woman who is highly principled and is discreet to boot.
For one, it is a private matter. For two, the father of a person's lover is the very last person one wants to discuss issues of a sexual nature with.

But somehow, Elisabeth manages to turn around this potentially inflammatory conversation into an insightful one.
By the end of their conversation, Charles' father effectively gives her a standing ovation.

This young woman is so impressive in her strength of character that she literally charms everyone around her, including her over-entitled daughter.
Even Connie likes her. Even when it becomes clear that she is a rival for Charles' affections.

When Charles eventually decides to end his wife's miserable existence, Elisabeth's reaction is typical of her personality.
She cries genuine tears for the woman who was denied a life long before she actually lost it.
She blames herself for desiring a life with Charles and Louisa.
She asks for God's mercy.
She takes the happiness she is about to be handed, with a grateful heart.

And when Louisa discovers she is actually her long-lost mother, their subsequent conversation reveals the striking similarity in their shared (somewhat warped) sense of ironic humour.

Louisa asks Elisabeth why she gave her away as a baby.
Elisabeth's answer of 'I didn't, I sold you' made me laugh out loud, not because it was funny in of itself, but it is a very clumsy attempt at mea culpa in answer to a little girl who has effectively been robbed of her biological mother until now.
As if somehow in Elisabeth's confused logic, selling your baby is better than giving her away for free.

In a bizarre twist, and one that in fact does not surprise me in the least, given her over-inflated sense of self-importance, Louisa is delighted that she had been sold for an expensive amount.

But... I don't for one minute let it escape my understanding of the underbelly of this scene that Louisa in her childish way is actually trying to ease the pain of her mother, with humour, albeit a dark one.
In this sense, she has matured far beyond her years...
Sound familiar?
A case of Nature or Nurture?
Or both?

Mother had succeeded in her mission of passing on her engaging personality and maturity to the former little monster.

It was a real pleasure to see this.
And more so to see these three finally reunited as a proper family.

In the end, Elisabeth had done exactly what she had said in her interview that she didn't want to do.
In accepting this business transaction, in fact she had signed herself up for life.
She just didn't know it at the time.

Captain of her soul?
Hell no.
But her intrinsically good character led her gently to her happy destination.

Again, unfortunately, I cannot embed this video.

NB: When Louisa calles her 'Mama' for the first time, I think Elisabeth replies in french 'Oh ma petite' (my little one) and not 'Oh my pretty' as the subtitles suggest.

What a great film.
What enlightening characters.

And yes, the bewbies were impressive, Danny.
*rolls eyes*



dannyfrom504 said...


i couldn't give it an A+ due to it's wordiness. lol.

like i said....A LOT of game/red-pill stuff in this movie. and i really like that it's so under the radar. i've never met anyone that's seen this movie.

glad you liked it.

Spacetraveller said...

@ Danny,

Thanks for the score.
I don't turn my nose up at an A-.
Very respectable score indeed.

Yes I loved this movie and the lessons it draws out.

As you can see I have a lot to say about it :-)

Thank YOU for recommending it.

Firepower said...

Sophie Marceau was a french child star - the selena gomez of her day so to speak

Spacetraveller said...

Welcome to The Sanctuary, Firepower!

How appropriate your handle is to this post :-)

Yes, I have seen Sophie Marceau in one or two french films she starred in when she was a teenager.

Brilliant actress she is.
And of course, beautiful too.

dannyfrom504 said...

Next up watch "old yeller".

Spacetraveller said...


I shall.
The wiki summary sounds great :-)

dannyfrom504 said...

Brody loves the film btw. Can't lie, I always cry at the shooting scene.