Here at the VIFF, you’ll see many films directed by female directors. One is To Keep The Light, directed by Erica Fae. It’s a very impressive work.
Abbie is the wife of Thomas, a lighthouse keeper in Maine in 1876. However Thomas has recently fallen ill and has become bedridden with a complete loss of appetite. That means Abbie will have to tend to the lighthouse while he is sick. She does everything Thomas does and keeps record of everything although she does commit one error.
One morning she sees a body of a man has washed ashore. The following day, she sees the man has not awaken so she assumes he’s dead. However just as she’s about to cast the body to sea, the man awakens. She gives him shelter and food as he’s about to recover. He tells her the story of how he ended up in the sea. As he’s recovering, she tells Thomas of this man: a Swede named Johan. It’s only a matter of days that Johan gets better. He’s even able to help Abbie with the lighthouse.
Abbie’s even able to go to town with Johan but the townpeople do not look fondly towards Abbie or Johan. Some are suspicious of the two considering Thomas is still bedridden. Even the postal lady Mrs. Williams has a suspicion towards Swedes as do many of the townfolks. It’s difficult enough since one family, the Eaton family, feels they should have owned the lighthouse only to have been outbid by Abbie and Thomas.
One day Abbie sees the breakfast eaten, assuming Thomas is starting recover and lies next to him, only to discover it’s Johan. Abbie soon learns the horrific news. Thomas is dead; he drowned himself. As if Thomas’ death isn’t hard enough, she knows she could lose the lighthouse to the Eatons. Troubles turn worse as the Chief Inspector conducts an inspection and gives it a scathing review, mostly because of his male chauvinism. Soon Johan reveals her love towards Abbie just around the time the Eatons are trying to claim her lighthouse. Abbie would have to make an important decision. She does, but not the decision most would expect.
Listening to the first five minutes of the Q&A with Erica Fae, I learned a lot more about women who looked after lighthouses in place of their ailing or deceased husbands. It’s documented but the times whitewashed their contributions those many years ago. Erica Fae is able to bring their achievements to full view and for us to finally see. Even though Abbie is a fictional character, it’s enlightening to see what they did during the time. I’m glad Erica has the chance through this film to finally tell us their story and finally commend their accomplishments.
If there’s one glitch about this film, it’s that it doesn’t appear like it’s solid in its intention as a film. It becomes obvious it’s about one woman’s struggle to keep the lighthouse she should rightfully own being the widow of the previous owner. However the story of Abbie’s struggle has the distraction of her romance with Johan. I’ll admit while watching this, I was left wondering if the film was intended to be a romance: a story about the man Abbie truly loved. I don’t have a problem at all with films conveying a message of women fighting for their rights but I think the romance from Abbie and Johan took away from the story’s message and would leave confused about what the main intention of the film is to be.
SPOILER ALERT – Do Not Read This Paragraph IF You Don‘t Want To Know The Ending: Even the ending had me confused. It’s obvious Abbie loved Johan but it couldn’t be that she was thinking of marrying him to keep her lighthouse. Even if it was right after the death of Thomas, Abbie didn’t come across as that type of woman. If she were to marry Johan, it would be because she loved him. I admit I had different expectations in the film. I thought Johan would follow his heart and come back to her. I think that’s why the ending of her writing the letter to set her ownership of the lighthouse in stone left me confused.
I give a lot of respect to Erica Fae for this film. Fae is best known as an actress in the film Synecdoche, New York and a recurring character in Boardwalk Empire. She wrote, directed, researched and played the lead in the film. She does an excellent job in all the duties she takes on in the film but there are some noticeable flaws. I know I made mention of a story of a love mixed with a woman’s fight for her right as coming off as uneven. As far as Fae’s acting, she does an excellent job of playing the character but she doesn’t come across as too believable as a woman from the 1870’s in New England. She comes across as too 21st century in her movement and her speaking. Antti Reini did a good job of playing Johan. The other cast members also did very well in their parts. The cinematography by Wes Cardino was excellent and gives a great feel for the East Coast. The score by Caroline Shaw was also very fitting for the film.
To Keep The Light has its noticeable flaws. Nevertheless it is a good story about what certain women had to fight for that often goes overlooked. I thank Erica Fae for giving us this story.