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Sophie Marceau : Movie : Firelight

Title : Firelight
Click image to enlarge
Year : 1997
Role : Elisabeth Laurier
Director : William Nicholson
Language : English

(Boston Herald, Sep 1, 1998 by Stephen Schaefer)

It's something of a truism that actors are different from the roles they play. And rarely is it more true than in the case of Sophie Marceau, filmdom's period costume queen.

Marceau, the statuesque French actress most familiar to American audiences as Mel Gibson's French queen in his Oscar-winning 'Braveheart,' is on movie screens again in the romantic 'Firelight,' a 19th century drama of impossible love, opening Friday.

Marceau matter-of-factly notes - in charming, lightly accented English - that she's just finished filming 'A Midsummer's Night Dream' with Kevin Kline, her seventh consecutive period film.

Yet in a midriff-baring Missoni top, maroon skirt that brushes her ankles and blond-streaked hair that hangs down to the middle of her back, Marceau looks ready not for a walk into the past but a leap to the catwalk of the nearest fashion show.

The last place you'd expect to see her is in the garb of a poor Swiss governess who must sell herself as a surrogate mother to an English aristocrat, which is her dilemma in 'Firelight.' The governess wins over the aristocrat because she speaks her mind, a trait that Marceau does share with the character.

The actress has been known to tease the French film industry on its need to make better movies.

'I have to open my mouth,' she said. 'Not because I want to, but if I have something to say and we live in a free world, I want to take advantage of that.'

That sincerity has helped make her France's top actress.

'For the public, there is no gap between what they think who I am and what I am really,' said Marceau, who has homes in her native Paris and Warsaw, where her longtime lover, Polish filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, is based. They have one child.

'I have nothing to hide, but I have my little secrets, as everybody (does). But there is no two personalities here. People are people. I believe you're a star because you're a little bit mad or more complicated than others.'

That curiosity and common sense have been evident since Marceau's star-making debut at age 13 in 1980 with 'La Boum.' When she did 'Boum II' two years later, she won France's Cesar award as most promising newcomer.

Unlike Molly Ringwald or Ally Sheedy, '80s American ingenues whose popularity soon faded, Marceau forged ahead. Does she worry about Hollywood's notion that the first thing a woman loses when she attains success is her femininity?

'In Hollywood that's more obvious than anywhere else,' she said. 'The liberation of women has brought a lot of good things but also terrible things. It's terrible when a woman becomes too tough.

'Actually, these days a woman has to be a bit schizophrenic. You have to be a woman, housewife, wife, a mother, a good cook: So you have to be soft and support your husband as his wife. But because we want to be independent and we're interested in the world and we vote, we have to be, not tough, but belong to the society and be listened to.

'It's difficult. In costume films it's easier to understand women back then than to understand a 30-year-old woman today.'

In 'Firelight,' her governess forcefully points out to her young charge how imperative it is for the child to learn to read, to use her mind, because as a woman she's nothing.

'Women had no rights; they were not represented in society. They didn't vote, they weren't working. They were mothers. That's it,' Marceau said. 'I play a woman who belongs to this reality. She's an evolved person and tries to educate herself because she understands the only way to get free is to have a free mind and the only way she can escape her reality is through her mind.'

Copyright 1998
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