The Fire Within

When I was watching the extra features on the My Dinner with Andre disc, I decided to watch the My Dinner with Louis Malle. I thought it was interesting study of his films. He also seemed to be an intrigueing figure, always wanting to make films that shocked the movie going public. He also wanted to explore different themes in every film that he makes which I find to be refreshing, after having to experience all of Burton’s films recently (sometimes I hate friends with bad taste). I was ashamed to admit to myself that although I had been meaning to get to him for some time, I had only ever seen Au Revoir Les Enfants, a devestating film based on actual events from his life where at a boarding school a teacher gets in trouble for enrolling Jews and gets arrested. Of course the Jewish children go off to die in concentration camps. It was a film that I really liked after watching it, but I guess I got distracted from viewing his other films at the time. I decided to rectify that and went to my local video rental store (yes we still have those here and independently owned nonetheless!) to pick up The Fire Within.

This film is about a recovered alcoholic (or so everyone thinks) deciding to kill himself. Before he does, he wants to visit his friends one last time in Paris. So he leaves his clinic and visits each friend, becoming more and more resolute to die as each visit comes to an end. I think that he is trying desperately a reason to live but cannot find it in these friends. Each friend brings up that he is an alcoholic so nonchalantly. They remember how he was, not how he is. They don’t really listen to what he has to say.

The first friend he visits now lives with a woman who has a couple of kids. He is surrounded by his work on Egyptology and has given up his playboy lifestyle. He seems to be all the more happy for it. He recommends to Alain that he must get back to work. He needs to keep working in order to get through his tough time. The second friend he goes to is a bartender at a hotel that he once stayed at. The bartender makes him a drink without even thinking and sets it in front of him. Alain is sane at this point to refuse it. The bartender remarks how pale he is. The third friend that he visits is this older woman. She seems to be outwardly sad. She lived too hard and too fast. She has nothing left in this world besides painting. She has a conversation with Alain and her friend about trying to stay the same that is only quietly heart breaking. The next friends he visits are friends who see themselves as rebels. They are still living day to day, getting arrested for different political acts all the time. However they don’t seem to be enjoying themselves. They do it because that is what they have always done. It is at this point that Alain’s strength sort of withers. He takes his first drink. It makes him sick. He tumbles to his last friend’s house where they put him down to bed. They are concerned for him but only slightly. When he wakes up and comes down to the dinner party, the whole room seems to go from lively to more subdued just by his prescence. During the dinner party, his friend relates a story about Alain being drunk and waking up on the Unknown Solider tomb. Everyone laughs except for him. Several times during the dinner party, his friends express concern and lightly acknowledge that he had started to drink again. Although he just gets more frustrated with their comments.

His results from this day were all cynical. One can see how these people in his life are sort of charicutures. However this film is told from his point of view. It is established very early on that he is depressed and so he might be coloring and filtering these experiences through his depression. All of the pompous intellectualism, the prim nature of most of the women, and the foolhardiness of them may have been just his perception. In reality they may have cared deeply for him and want to save him, but he refuses to see it this way.

Depression and alcoholism are dealt with a gritty reality that I found refreshing. The performance by Maurice Ronet who plays Alain is subtle and interesting. He seems to get sicker and more determined as the film goes on by only suggesting it in his eyes and set jaw. Overall it was a great film that touched me personally and I will definitely be seeking out more Louis Malle films.


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