Krefting On | Louis Malle’s, The Fire Within
Louis Malle’s The Fire Within (1963) is a perfect film in every way. Malle wrote the script in part as a reaction to his early success and acceptance, basing the tale of Alain Leroy (hauntingly portrayed by Elevator to the Gallows star Maurice Ronet) on the real life story of the depressive Jacques Rigaut, a barely-published writer with connections to Dada and Surrealism (and the subject of Pierre Drieu La Rochelle’s 1931 novel Le fue follet). Malle treated the story with just the right amount of poetic license: moving the action to the early 60’s, putting a lot of himself in it (Ronet even wore Malle’s own clothes), changing the protagonist from an opium addict to an alcoholic, and peppering the story with enough prescient political material for our hero to not care about.
The result is one of those beautifully and elegantly morose works of art that the French really do do better than anyone. Leroy moves through his day in an unbelievably morose cloud. Hopeless, dejected, utterly completely unable to connect with anyone. He mopes about his room in a halfway house, visits old friends (including a brief and magical appearance by Jean Moreau and one of the most uncomfortable dinner scenes this side of The Celebration), and wanders the streets of Paris. Malle soundtracks these melancholy moments with the gorgeous music of Erik Satie. So beautiful! So soaked in atmosphere! It is so heartbreaking to watch Leroy’s inability to get close to people rear its ugly head time and time again. “I’d have liked to captivate people, hold on to them, bind them close. So that things would stay still around me. But it always went to hell… I wanted so much to be loved, that I feel I do love.” It’s absolutely breathtaking, one of those rare films I felt was speaking directly to me the first time I saw it.
I will hereby echo Mr. Newman’s earlier call to utilize the inter-library loan. How else are you going to see this excellent film? You either pay $30 to The Criterion Collection (you are students and should spend your money on textbooks and things) or you could come over to my house (I won’t invite you), so it’s to the library with you! Get! GET!
Matt Krefting is a hamp alum and current employee in the alumni relations office who loves you very much.