Louis Malle – Le feu follet AKA The Fire Within [+Extras] (1963)


When he shot The Fire Within in the spring of 1963, Louis Malle had already established a strong reputation. Incredibly precocious, he won a Palme d’Or at the age of twenty-four, at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, for the underwater documentary The Silent World, photographed and codirected with oceanographer Jacques Cousteau. One year later he anticipated the French New Wave with Elevator to the Gallows, scored by Miles Davis and starring a young Jeanne Moreau, who also starred in his next film, The Lovers, which won a Special Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1958 and created a scandal with its explicit eroticism. His follow-up, an audacious 1960 adaptation of Raymond Queneau’s farcical novel Zazie dans le métro, further proved his fondness for literary sources, and 1962’s Vie privée created a stir by featuring Brigitte Bardot in one of her more complex roles.

Yet despite his commercial and critical success, Malle felt dissatisfied with his career thus far. Probably his apprenticeship with Robert Bresson, for whom he was assistant director on A Man Escaped (1956), had instilled in him a high exigency for the practice of his art. He was also aware of the eclecticism of his style, as well as of his themes, while newcomers like Godard and Truffaut had imposed a stronger personality. Now thirty, Malle seemed to be hiding behind literary adaptations, which looked like aesthetic variations with no real focus. The son of a wealthy family of industrialists from the north of France, Malle felt ill at ease with his bourgeois upbringing, and unlike some of the directors coming from Cahiers du cinéma (Truffaut, Rohmer, et al.), with their right-wing inclinations, he was decidedly opposed to the war in Algeria and the Gaullist regime, even producing the overtly political first feature of his friend Alain Cavalier, Le combat dans l’île.


Spanish subs:

Subtitles:English .srt

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  1. “Fire
    Within” by Louis Malle (1963)
    makes the viewers ask themselves and try to
    answer – why Alain Leroy, an intelligent, good looking man, successful with
    women and having friends with connections, thinks about suicide? Is there something
    wrong with him, and if so, what can it be? He doesn’t look like an eccentric in
    any way. He talks like an educated and a genuine human being, without
    affectation and rhetorical effects. Why could he lose the feeling of life’s
    value? His psychiatrist tries to persuade him to concentrate on bright side of
    life – the world’s challenges and mysteries, to give himself to the joys of sex
    and adventure. But Alain contemplates suicide not because something is wrong
    with him (he is quite able to enjoy life), but because something is wrong with
    the world. He observes that life makes people too worried, too frustrated and
    too indifferent or cruel to one another. He feels that the human world is
    crooked and he tries to understand why, and it is at this point he became disappointed
    in life as it is offered to us.

    Luis Malle gives
    Alain the floor/screen, gives him the chance to explain to the viewers what the
    problem is. With never fading curiosity and sometimes amazement we observe
    Alain’s “philosophical agony” vis-à-vis the human world we all live in. And the
    director gives more than a fair chance to Alain’s friends to try to persuade
    him to continue to live. The film is constructed as a kind of Platonic dialogues
    between a human being and world, through visual images and interpersonal
    situations. The film is in no way “theoretical”: all the arguments are symbolic
    and existentially rooted. The film is for the living human beings, not for
    intellectuals by profession. We as viewers are given chance to see both sides –
    the individual human being and the world in general. We, as if, have to decide
    for Alain his choice.

    Alain die in order to help us continue to live? May be, Malle made this film to
    reinforce our desire to live if we are able to comprehend Alain’s reasons for
    wanting to die. Will Alain’s suicide awaken us to a more genuine, less vain
    The actors are emotionally
    sensitive, intellectually proficient and semantically competent. They play characters
    caught between life and death, as we all are. “Fire Within” is not only an
    exquisitely “intellectual” but an existentially “philosophical” film of a rare
    organic combination of psychological sophistication and common humanity for all
    those who are living and thinking about life.

    Victor Enyutin

    Please, read essay
    about Malle’s film “The ‘King’ Who Refused the Kingdom of Life for its
    Imperfection” (with analysis of shots from the film).

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