Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Fire Within (1963)

The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)
The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)

Genre: Drama
Director: Louis Malle
Starring: Maurice Ronet, Jeanne Moreau, Alexandra Stewart, Lena Skerla
Duration: 108 min.
Rating: 8.8  

Alain Leroy resides in a private clinic in Versailles to treat his problem with alcohol.  Although he is constantly depressed, he leaves for Paris to hang out with his friends from the good old days.  Will Alain make a connection that will change his mind about ending it all?

The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)

The Fire Within is a film directed by Louis Malle, based on the 1931 novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle of the same name.  It screened in competition at the 1963 Venice Film Festival where it was awarded the Special Jury Prize and the Italian Film Critics Award.

This is an intimate portrait of a man in dire mental health.  A former alcoholic playboy now cured and at the end of a stint in an expensive private clinic, who is unable to find any reason to continue living in the outside world.  Maurice Ronet, who starred in Malle's first film Elevator to the Gallows returns to play the role of Alain, and does so with a remarkable performance, able to quietly and confidently reveal to us the internal existential torments of his character as he searches for an answer to that eternal philosophical question.  Malle fills the rest of the cast with mostly unknown actors, save for Alexandra Stewart and Jeanne Moreau who lend very good supporting roles one a bourgeois former lover the other an art loving bohemian friend from the past, both serving as symbols of an empty and pointless existence. 

The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)

The film also provides a brilliant example of Malle's sense of style.  Using fragments of Erik Satie's haunting and beautiful piano piece Gymopedies throughout to underscore the emotional tone.  The best example is a scene of Alain alone at a cafe.  The score perfectly ties everything together as we see in a series of quick cuts, Alain blankly watching the faces of fellow customers and random Parisians walking past.  Until his eyes settle on the glass of alcohol in front of him, courting it with a long stare before pulling it close and lifting it to his lips, at first with some hesitance, but quickly overcome as his head tilts back to down the entire drink.  The scene plays out wordlessly but Satie's heartrending piano melody, Ronet's marvelous acting and Malle's subtle filmcraft tell us everything we need to know.

The Fire Within, led by a towering but controlled performance from Maurice Ronet, is a poignant character study kept from being overly sentimental or melodramatic by Malle's steady direction and artistic vision.  Possibly the best of his films I've seen to date, but definitely the most harrowing, if only because it makes you ponder for a moment whether Alain's point of view could be the right one after all.

Bonjour Tristesse

The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)

The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)

The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)

The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)

The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)

The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)

The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)

The Fire Within • Le feu follet (1963)


Bonjour Tristesse said...

Well not only restraint but knowing when to use it.  He is after all the same director who did the outrageous Zazie dans le metro just a couple years before this.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

To this point I've noticed every film he's made is completely different in genre and style from the previous one.  But he always has a firm grasp on whatever mood he wants to convey.  As a newcomer to Malle's work I am interested to see if this is something he manages to do throughout the remainder of his career.

Shutterbug said...

Sounds intriguing. And you gave it such a great review. I would have to watch this sometime! :)

Hoi-Ming Ng said...

I partake of my fair share of libations but it's just a fact that alcohol doesn't taste pleasant. Anyhoo, this one sounds like an interesting piece. I might check it out.

d_4 said...

It seems so depressing, but with that rating and that review I'm pretty sure I'm going to end up seeing this one

Andrew Buckle said...

I need to see more Louis Malle. I have only seen Lacombe Lucien, which I thought was very good. This and Au Revoir Les Enfants are two on my list now. Nice work! 

Bonjour Tristesse said...

It is a depressing subject but unlike say City of Life and Death it doesn't leave you completely deflated at the end.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks Andy.  I haven't seen that one yet, but I should be getting to it in the next month or so.

Tyler said...

I love this movie, I bought the DVD recently based on a recommendation from John at The Droid You're Looking For (it's his favourite movie) and it reminded me how much I love Malle. I've since seen a whole load more of his movies and he's now one of my favourite directors.

Jack L said...

I'm really glad you got around to this one.
It's a film I watched rather recently but instantly fell in love with, call me weird, but I really identified with the film as a whole.
Louis Malle is certainly one of my favourite French director's now, and I look forward to seeing more of his work, perhaps I might watch Viva Maria next, that looks fun...

Great review!

Bonjour Tristesse said...

I don't know if I could call this film a favorite, but it certainly has cemented Malle as one of my favorite directors as well.

Bonjour Tristesse said...

Thanks Jack, I'm glad I saw it and am enjoying discovering Malle's films.  I think maybe he's not as well known as others from his generation because his style was all over the place, but that's what I like about him.  Viva Maria does look incredibly fun.

Moviemonstrosityblog said...

I need to prepare my exam French. Watching french movies is a good way!

blahblahblahtoby said...

it certainly sounds good. also easy to see how it could get overly melodramatic in the wrong hands. is restraint the mark of a great director/film maker?

meandmy thinkingcap said...

Good find.

Jack Deth said...

Hi, Bonjour and company:

Malle seems to be establishing his comfort zone of shadow, style, tension and story telling with 'The Fire Within' shot in beautiful B&W. I enjoy how the washed out look of many of the background and distance shots define Alain's inner demons. While the clarity of many close ups nearly lays them bare.

An excellent find!

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