Wednesday, May 21, 2008

ON DVD : THE FIRE WITHIN

Before anything, the credits to Louis Malle's fifth feature scroll up the screen like a eulogistic prologue for the tragic story that follows. It may be true that you can't judge a book by its cover (or a movie by its DVD case...) but by the end of this sequence - which divides actors and crew with the title of the film - you're pretty sure the film won't end pleasantly. For, just twenty minutes in, Alain (Maurice Ronet) makes a 24-hour suicide pact with himself and plaintively proclaims, "I'm going to kill myself tomorrow".

Staying in a Versailles clinic for alcoholism treatment, Alain is separated from his wife and their life in New York. At first, his mopey-ness seems maudlin and, well... "French", but Malle effectively, slowly rolls out the true reasons behind Alain's bleak decision. He is a thirty-something man stuck in adolescence. Some friends have married, some friends are militants, and some friends simply progressed to the level of the wine-sipping bourgeoisie, yet Alain can get through a morning shave without being bored. He wasn't made days for days past the age of twenty-one. His life is done.

Though active during the same period as Godard, Rohmer, Truffaut, Chabrol et. al., Malle is often excluded from conversations when considering the French New Wave clique. The Fire Within makes a good case as to why. While Godard was off throwing paint and busting conventions with Contempt, and Rohmer was setting up the first of his Six Moral Tales, Malle was focused on the traditions of his hero Robert Bresson.

And though his style shifted until his early death, Louis Malle primarily stuck to films about characters between the ages of late-adolescence and early-adulthood. It's sad, but kind of fitting that Malle died at the young age of sixty-three, the same numbered year that The Fire Within was released.

1 comment:

Will Lewis said...

I read the other day that Criterion was releasing this film and became really excited.