A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Fire Within (Louis Malle, 1963)

Maurice Ronet in The Fire Within
Alain Leroy: Maurice Ronet
Lydia: Léna Skerla
Dubourg: Bernard Noël
Eva: Jeanne Moreau
Solange: Alexandra Stewart

Director: Louis Malle
Screenplay: Louis Malle
Based on a novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle
Cinematography: Ghislain Cloquet
Production design: Bernard Evein
Film editing: Suzanne Baron

The Fire Within seems an ironic title for a film about a man whose internal fire has become so low that he plans to, well, snuff it. The French title is Le Feu Follet, which means "will o' the wisp," proverbially "something just out of reach." The thing out of reach for Alain Leroy, a recovering alcoholic whose stay in a clinic has been so effective that his doctor thinks he should go home, is any reason to go on living. Estranged from his wife, who now lives in the United States, he searches for the elusive raison d'être in sex, work, family life, drugs, politics, society, and a return to alcohol, but the quest ends in failure. It's the midlife crisis writ large, but what saves Louis Malle's film from slumping into yet another ennuyant portrait of ennui is the keenly internalized performance of Maurice Ronet as Alain as well as the perverse vitality of the world he is seeking to leave: i.e., Paris in the early 1960s. Malle's vision, in tandem with Ghislain Cloquet's rich black-and-white cinematography, gives us a milieu that presents almost too many reasons to stay alive, so that the problem -- Camus's familiar "one really serious philosophical problem" of suicide -- remains centered in Alain himself. The film crackles with the tension between the world as Alain sees it and the world we see through Malle's eyes.  

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