"Save or Perish": A Film Depicting Vulnerability


On November 28, 2018 in France, the overwhelming film “Save or Perish” was released. The film progressively unveils a fireman’s challenge, and that of his wife, after he has been burned and disfigured in a horrible accident. In the beginning Franck is portrayed as being a completely dedicated, professional and proud firefighter, studiously preparing to pass the difficult exams to become a fire chief.  Pierre Niney plays the role of Franck, and Anaïs Demoustier plays the role of his wife, who has just given birth to two little twin girls. When speaking about her husband, Cecile affirms that his job has helped him forge his character, how he feels proud and happy to serve others and save lives, either by extinguishing fires, rescuing the homeless on the sidewalk from hypothermia, or sometimes confronting the aftermath of desperate suicide cases, collecting cadavers’ body parts from under the subway. First and foremost this film is a tribute to firemen, to their tough daily job of assisting vulnerable individuals and to how they perform these tasks with courtesy and respect. The whole family suffers a traumatic experience when Franck proceeds to rescue two of his colleagues. He also becomes trapped in the burning building, and although he miraculously survives, he is badly burned and his face is horribly mutilated by the fire. After 6 months of coma, Franck painfully re-awakens, filled with revolt and anger. He feels like a monster that no longer deserves his wife, and even contemplates putting an end to his life. This period is agonizing for Cecile: she goes through arduous phases of rejection and she blames herself for not being able to love him anymore. They decide to separate for a while and Cecile returns home to live with her parents. In some scenes we become acquainted with the hospital staff, with their admirable dedication and sensitivity. Nathalie, a nurse full of attention, affirms to Franck that he is resourceful enough to pull himself out of the situation. The film depicts a beautiful and trusting relationship between the caregiver and the patient, so precious for a man who is extremely wounded, at a time in his life when he is experiencing inordinate suffering. However, the turning point in the film doesn’t occur until Frank is literally hanging from his balcony, intending to put an end to his life. At this dramatic moment while he’s still on the balcony rail, he envisions his own dead corpse, a fireman’s body, destroyed and shattered below on the sidewalk. This is the moment when something clicks inside him. He realizes that the meaning of his life is to be with his wife and daughter; that he was not put on earth to perish, but rather to serve. Until now, he had closed himself up in the role of a desperate victim. Suddenly he realizes that his family is counting on him and waiting for him. At this point he leans not towards the abyss below, but towards life. Following 24 painful operations, he also decides to stop chasing his former self, to accept himself as he is now, with his face scarred by the indelible burns. And for the first time, he kisses his two twin daughters. He decides to “win his wife back” and he goes to a school party disguised as a clown to surprise his wife and children; and then tell them how much he loves them. The film depicts a couple who must become reacquainted with each other, and learn how to truly love each other. Cecile previously loved Franck as a magnificent fireman, and presently she accepts his vulnerability. However she can only do this once he himself has accepted his own vulnerability, and the fact that he is no longer the fireman he was before. This is a film depicting a very honest and profound look at humanity, which invites us to examine our own vulnerability, to take the road we all need to follow, to accept ourselves and to love ourselves just the way we are, with our limitations and our imperfections. These are the inherent requirements to genuinely love others and accept to be loved. Contributed by Didier Berge]]>

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