The Fire Within


1h 44m 1964
The Fire Within

Brief Synopsis

A recovering alcoholic fights to rebuild his life.

Film Details

Also Known As
Fuoco fatuo, Le feu follet
Genre
Drama
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1964
Premiere Information
New York opening: 17 Feb 1964
Production Company
Arco Film; Nouvelles Editions de Films
Distribution Company
Gibraltar Films; Governor Films
Country
France
Location
France
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Le feu follet by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle (Paris, 1931).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 44m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.66 : 1

Synopsis

Alain Leroy, a desperate 30-year-old rehabilitated alcoholic bent on suicide, is befriended by Lydia, an associate of his estranged American wife, Dorothy, now residing in New York City. After a night spent with Leroy, Lydia, concerned for his welfare, drives him to the Versailles clinic where he has been treated by Dr. La Barbinais. There he halfheartedly attempts to alleviate his ennui by smoking, doodling, clipping obituaries, perusing a photograph of Marilyn Monroe, and keeping a diary. Although Dr. La Barbinais insists that he is well and suggests that he attempt a reconciliation with Dorothy, Leroy, realizing the suggestion's futility, refuses to do so. Instead, he undertakes a Parisian holiday, during which, hoping to find a reason to continue living, he contacts former friends. Among his old acquaintances are Dubourg, now a contented bourgeois Egyptologist, married to a smug matron; Jeanne, an artist and addict; and Solange, a promiscuous socialite, married to the cooly aristocratic Cyrille. Distressed by their empty lives and unable to communicate with them, Leroy resumes his drinking. Milou, an acquaintance, takes him to the Versailles clinic, where the following morning, despite a message from Solange, Leroy packs his bags, finishes reading his book, and shoots himself.

Film Details

Also Known As
Fuoco fatuo, Le feu follet
Genre
Drama
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1964
Premiere Information
New York opening: 17 Feb 1964
Production Company
Arco Film; Nouvelles Editions de Films
Distribution Company
Gibraltar Films; Governor Films
Country
France
Location
France
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel Le feu follet by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle (Paris, 1931).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 44m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.66 : 1

Articles

The Fire Within


Suicide is both the subject and the inspiration for The Fire Within, known in French as Le Feu Follet, which means will o' the wisp. Released in 1963, it was directed by French filmmaker Louis Malle, who later called it a personal favorite from his early career. The story centers on Alain Leroy, a recovering alcoholic who's been taking the cure at a pricey rehabilitation clinic in Versailles, thanks to his estranged wife, who's footing the bill.

Alain would like to stay at the place indefinitely, since he enjoys the absence of obligations and responsibilities; but he's gotten over his drinking, so his doctor says he's got to go. He ponders his options during the restless night that follows, eventually muttering to himself that tomorrow is the day he'll commit suicide. The next morning he packs up a few possessions, including a pistol he's hidden in his room, and heads for Paris, where he spends a long day looking up people he used to hang out with-lovers, drinking companions, a couple of political outlaws, and others. They remember him as the booze-guzzling daredevil he used to be, and when they see his new clean-and-sober image, they say he looks terrible and is probably worse off than ever. Late in the day Alain succumbs to alcohol again, attends a dinner party that quickly goes sour, and returns to the clinic. The ending takes the story's grim logic to its inevitable conclusion.

Malle started work on The Fire Within in 1962, after a journalist friend said he was leaving on a trip and then shot himself in his room, where he was found days later. Malle had been fascinated by suicide as an intellectual issue since his college days, when he discovered French existentialist Albert Camus's statement that suicide is the one truly serious philosophical problem. Malle preferred Camus's objective view to the teachings of his Roman Catholic education, which saw suicide as a mortal sin, and he decided his movie would take a psychological approach, impartially observing the behavior of a young man who opts out of life because he isn't interested in becoming a true adult as his old friends have.

Malle began by writing a long story treatment for the film, set in 1962, when some French ultraconservatives were making violent efforts to thwart Algeria's struggle against French colonial rule. Malle was dissatisfied with what he'd written, so a friend suggested that he take a look at Le Feu Follet, a short novel published in 1931 by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, a French fascist who'd collaborated with the Nazi occupation of France during the World War II years. Drieu's novel was based on the last days of real-life surrealist poet Jacques Rigaut, who'd killed himself after years of writing and talking about it; this made Drieu feel guilty for failing to prevent it, and in 1945 he committed suicide as well. Malle had read Le Feu Follet years earlier, but reading it again persuaded him to abandon his own outline and adapt Drieu's novel instead.

Although The Fire Within was the first screenplay Malle had written on his own, the work went quickly and smoothly, and he found that the result was even more personal than it would have been if he'd gone with his original idea, since using Drieu's novel provided camouflage for the intense connection he felt with the story. Like the main character, Malle was about thirty, felt anxious about leaving youth behind, and was living by night and drinking a lot. Ditto for Maurice Ronet, whom he invited to play the picture's leading role. Ronet had starred in Malle's excellent debut feature, the 1958 thriller Elevator to the Gallows, but Malle wouldn't sign him for The Fire Within unless the actor lost more than forty pounds so he'd look malnourished and exhausted. Ronet succeeded in slimming down, only to face new demands from the director, who worried that Ronet's supple acting would cancel out the hard-edged personality shared by Malle's suicidal friend and Drieu's suicidal character, impatient people who hated sentimentality. Malle worked at hardening Ronet's portrayal, achieving what he claimed was his first real success at controlling and fine-tuning a performance, before the camera and in the editing room.

Malle shot The Fire Within in color for two days, but when he saw the rushes he found the color distracting, so he started over with the high-contrast black and white he'd used so effectively in Elevator to the Gallows a few years before. He recalled later that the depressing subject matter made the shooting "traumatic" for him and the small crew, who filmed the whole picture in real Paris locations, but the movie got deservedly strong reviews when it reached theaters. One of the many fine supporting players is Jeanne Moreau, who'd filled major roles in Elevator to the Gallows and The Lovers, a controversial drama also made by Malle in 1958; one of the director's favorites, she went on to costar with Brigitte Bardot in his 1965 comedy Viva Maria! The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent.

Long after making it, Malle remarked that with The Fire Within he finally managed to find a cinematic style-objective, unobtrusive, no frills-that ideally matched the content of the story he was telling. One obvious reason is that he'd learned from the previous pictures he'd directed, but another must be his huge emotional involvement in the picture. Malle felt so close to both the real Maurice Ronet and the fictional Alain Leroy that he filled Alain's hospital-room closet with his own clothing, and even his own gun. "I was Alain Leroy," he remarked in the interview book Malle on Malle, a good source of information on the film. Although this was his fifth narrative feature, it was the first he was completely happy with. He had good reason to be.

Producer: Alain Queffelean
Director: Louis Malle
Screenplay: Louis Malle, based on the novel Le Feu Follet by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle
Cinematographer: Ghislain Cloquet
Film Editing: Suzanne Baron
Production Design: Bernard Evein
Music: Eric Satie
Cast: Maurice Ronet (Alain Leroy), Jeanne Moreau (Eva), Henri Serre (Frederic), Léna Skerla (Lydia), Yvonne Clech (Mlle Farnoux), Hubert Deschamps (D'Averseau); Jean-Paul Moulinot (Dr. La Barbinais), Mona Dol (Mme La Barbinais), Pierre Moncorbier (Moraine), René Dupuis (Charlie), Bernard Tiphaine (Milou), Bernard Noel (Dubourg), Ursula Kubler (Fanny), Alain Mottet (Urcel), François Gragnon (François Minville), Romain Bouteille (Jerome Minville), Jacques Sereys (Cyrille Lavaud), Alexandra Stewart (Solange), Claude Deschamps (Maria), Tony Taffin (Brancion).
BW-108m. Letterboxed.

by David Sterritt
The Fire Within

The Fire Within

Suicide is both the subject and the inspiration for The Fire Within, known in French as Le Feu Follet, which means will o' the wisp. Released in 1963, it was directed by French filmmaker Louis Malle, who later called it a personal favorite from his early career. The story centers on Alain Leroy, a recovering alcoholic who's been taking the cure at a pricey rehabilitation clinic in Versailles, thanks to his estranged wife, who's footing the bill. Alain would like to stay at the place indefinitely, since he enjoys the absence of obligations and responsibilities; but he's gotten over his drinking, so his doctor says he's got to go. He ponders his options during the restless night that follows, eventually muttering to himself that tomorrow is the day he'll commit suicide. The next morning he packs up a few possessions, including a pistol he's hidden in his room, and heads for Paris, where he spends a long day looking up people he used to hang out with-lovers, drinking companions, a couple of political outlaws, and others. They remember him as the booze-guzzling daredevil he used to be, and when they see his new clean-and-sober image, they say he looks terrible and is probably worse off than ever. Late in the day Alain succumbs to alcohol again, attends a dinner party that quickly goes sour, and returns to the clinic. The ending takes the story's grim logic to its inevitable conclusion. Malle started work on The Fire Within in 1962, after a journalist friend said he was leaving on a trip and then shot himself in his room, where he was found days later. Malle had been fascinated by suicide as an intellectual issue since his college days, when he discovered French existentialist Albert Camus's statement that suicide is the one truly serious philosophical problem. Malle preferred Camus's objective view to the teachings of his Roman Catholic education, which saw suicide as a mortal sin, and he decided his movie would take a psychological approach, impartially observing the behavior of a young man who opts out of life because he isn't interested in becoming a true adult as his old friends have. Malle began by writing a long story treatment for the film, set in 1962, when some French ultraconservatives were making violent efforts to thwart Algeria's struggle against French colonial rule. Malle was dissatisfied with what he'd written, so a friend suggested that he take a look at Le Feu Follet, a short novel published in 1931 by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, a French fascist who'd collaborated with the Nazi occupation of France during the World War II years. Drieu's novel was based on the last days of real-life surrealist poet Jacques Rigaut, who'd killed himself after years of writing and talking about it; this made Drieu feel guilty for failing to prevent it, and in 1945 he committed suicide as well. Malle had read Le Feu Follet years earlier, but reading it again persuaded him to abandon his own outline and adapt Drieu's novel instead. Although The Fire Within was the first screenplay Malle had written on his own, the work went quickly and smoothly, and he found that the result was even more personal than it would have been if he'd gone with his original idea, since using Drieu's novel provided camouflage for the intense connection he felt with the story. Like the main character, Malle was about thirty, felt anxious about leaving youth behind, and was living by night and drinking a lot. Ditto for Maurice Ronet, whom he invited to play the picture's leading role. Ronet had starred in Malle's excellent debut feature, the 1958 thriller Elevator to the Gallows, but Malle wouldn't sign him for The Fire Within unless the actor lost more than forty pounds so he'd look malnourished and exhausted. Ronet succeeded in slimming down, only to face new demands from the director, who worried that Ronet's supple acting would cancel out the hard-edged personality shared by Malle's suicidal friend and Drieu's suicidal character, impatient people who hated sentimentality. Malle worked at hardening Ronet's portrayal, achieving what he claimed was his first real success at controlling and fine-tuning a performance, before the camera and in the editing room. Malle shot The Fire Within in color for two days, but when he saw the rushes he found the color distracting, so he started over with the high-contrast black and white he'd used so effectively in Elevator to the Gallows a few years before. He recalled later that the depressing subject matter made the shooting "traumatic" for him and the small crew, who filmed the whole picture in real Paris locations, but the movie got deservedly strong reviews when it reached theaters. One of the many fine supporting players is Jeanne Moreau, who'd filled major roles in Elevator to the Gallows and The Lovers, a controversial drama also made by Malle in 1958; one of the director's favorites, she went on to costar with Brigitte Bardot in his 1965 comedy Viva Maria! The rest of the cast is uniformly excellent. Long after making it, Malle remarked that with The Fire Within he finally managed to find a cinematic style-objective, unobtrusive, no frills-that ideally matched the content of the story he was telling. One obvious reason is that he'd learned from the previous pictures he'd directed, but another must be his huge emotional involvement in the picture. Malle felt so close to both the real Maurice Ronet and the fictional Alain Leroy that he filled Alain's hospital-room closet with his own clothing, and even his own gun. "I was Alain Leroy," he remarked in the interview book Malle on Malle, a good source of information on the film. Although this was his fifth narrative feature, it was the first he was completely happy with. He had good reason to be. Producer: Alain Queffelean Director: Louis Malle Screenplay: Louis Malle, based on the novel Le Feu Follet by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle Cinematographer: Ghislain Cloquet Film Editing: Suzanne Baron Production Design: Bernard Evein Music: Eric Satie Cast: Maurice Ronet (Alain Leroy), Jeanne Moreau (Eva), Henri Serre (Frederic), Léna Skerla (Lydia), Yvonne Clech (Mlle Farnoux), Hubert Deschamps (D'Averseau); Jean-Paul Moulinot (Dr. La Barbinais), Mona Dol (Mme La Barbinais), Pierre Moncorbier (Moraine), René Dupuis (Charlie), Bernard Tiphaine (Milou), Bernard Noel (Dubourg), Ursula Kubler (Fanny), Alain Mottet (Urcel), François Gragnon (François Minville), Romain Bouteille (Jerome Minville), Jacques Sereys (Cyrille Lavaud), Alexandra Stewart (Solange), Claude Deschamps (Maria), Tony Taffin (Brancion). BW-108m. Letterboxed. by David Sterritt

The Fire Within - Maurice Ronet in Louis Malle's THE FIRE WITHIN on DVD


The Fire Within is an intriguing film from Louis Malle and one that kept his critics up nights trying to determine a pattern in his career. Malle had won a prestigious prize at Cannes for his first feature, a documentary on Jacques Cousteau. He then moved on to a crackling crime thriller (Elevator to the Gallows) a scorching romance (The Lovers) and a lighthearted comedy (Zazie dans le métro).

Malle was reportedly not impressed by these achievements, particularly after working as an assistant to the deep-dish filmmaker Robert Bresson. He contemplated a movie about a friend who had committed suicide, and then found a book by the 1920s writer Pierre Dreiu La Rochelle, who consorted with famous French surrealists but became a Fascist collaborator during the war and took his own life in 1945. La Rochelle's book Le feu follet was also about a dear friend who had killed himself.

Synopsis: Alain Leroy (Maurice Ronet) is a disaffected Frenchman with a failed marriage to a woman in New York. She pays for his board at an asylum for alcoholics. Already cured, Alain feels more secure staying in the structured environment, although he ventures out at will. He's at present engaged in an affair with his wife's best friend. Encouraged to communicate with his wife, Alain decides to go to Paris to do some banking. He eats with his fellow roomers at the asylum, with a married friend in Paris who has settled down, and finally with some well-to-do associates. Alain has played with a gun he has hidden in his room back at the asylum, and we wonder if he will follow through with a suicide bid.

The Fire Within examines a crucial day in a man's life from a non-judgmental point of view. Alain Leroy is first seen making love yet feels no real joy in his life; he's detached from the mainstream of living. All the things he once cared for now seem to be adolescent fancies. His room at the asylum is simply a place to inhabit while waiting for his fate to work itself out. It is decorated with some mildly obsessive details, like a proof sheet of photos of his wife, who he clearly still loves; and morbid news clippings, notably one about the death of Marilyn Monroe.

Alain's doctor urges him to return to his wife in New York, and his lover urges him to do the same. But Alain is convinced that his wife has moved on. He doesn't feel up to the task of causing trouble, or trying to turn over a new leaf. He no longer believes in himself.

Alain Leroy's various encounters do not place him in a "private trap" like Hitchcock's Norman Bates. He appears to be relaxed and in control of himself. Neither does he live in a morbidly poetic space, like Jacqueline Gibson of Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim. Alain's situation is quite the opposite, in fact. He's decidedly normal when compared to the bickering men at the asylum, or the neurotic woman who always notices when he sleeps elsewhere. Alain doesn't put out disturbed vibes and his dealings with people are always reasonable. He doesn't become upset when a tobacconist doesn't carry an obscure brand. He shows no irritation when people greet him, congratulate him on his return from an alcoholic cure, and then automatically serve him drinks.

All Alain knows for certain, is that he's too aware of his own failings with women to deal with romantic problems. He no longer feels aligned with his married friend, an old carousing buddy who has opted for domesticity. Alain expresses no outward alarm with either of those situations, the same way he remains passive when confronted by the busybodies and pretenders among the well-heeled dinner guests at his third meal.

Alain's one bright spot is meeting an old girlfriend, Eva (Jeanne Moreau). She breaks off with a client in her art gallery to spend time with him. Eva's not the answer. She likes him and seems to detect something about him that's not quite right, but she's no mind reader. The calm retreat of the asylum has allowed Alain to construct all the perfect defenses against breaking down and expressing his confusion. Why burden others with his pitiful self-doubt?

The Fire Within is photographed in smooth B&W. Louis Malles' direction stresses everyday normality. He imposes little outside comment on the story, despite the fact that it begins with a strange voiceover, drops a number of dark hints in the first few minutes and ends with a strange quote. The words describe Alain's final act as a selfish curse: he's making himself into an "indelible stain" that his loved ones will never be able to forget.

Criterion's DVD of The Fire Within raises our interest in the film with carefully chosen added-value content. Contemporary film interviews show Louis Malle and Maurice Ronet (who in the film seems a definite Malle surrogate figure) discussing the show, while two interview docus look back at the film's place in the director's career. Malle's Fire Within combines the observations of actress Alexandra Stewart and directors Phillipe Collin and Volker Schlöndorff. Just as Malle had apprenticed himself to Robert Bresson, he took on Schlöndorff as his assistant director, and would soon produce the young German's first feature, Young Törless. The second docu Jusqu'au 23 juillet examines the film in relation to its source novel.

The disc producer for Criterion is Abbey Lustgarten. The insert booklet contains helpful essays by Michel Ciment (on the film) and Peter Cowie (on actor Maurice Ronet).

For more information about The Fire Within, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Fire Within, go to TCM Shopping

by Glenn Erickson

The Fire Within - Maurice Ronet in Louis Malle's THE FIRE WITHIN on DVD

The Fire Within is an intriguing film from Louis Malle and one that kept his critics up nights trying to determine a pattern in his career. Malle had won a prestigious prize at Cannes for his first feature, a documentary on Jacques Cousteau. He then moved on to a crackling crime thriller (Elevator to the Gallows) a scorching romance (The Lovers) and a lighthearted comedy (Zazie dans le métro). Malle was reportedly not impressed by these achievements, particularly after working as an assistant to the deep-dish filmmaker Robert Bresson. He contemplated a movie about a friend who had committed suicide, and then found a book by the 1920s writer Pierre Dreiu La Rochelle, who consorted with famous French surrealists but became a Fascist collaborator during the war and took his own life in 1945. La Rochelle's book Le feu follet was also about a dear friend who had killed himself. Synopsis: Alain Leroy (Maurice Ronet) is a disaffected Frenchman with a failed marriage to a woman in New York. She pays for his board at an asylum for alcoholics. Already cured, Alain feels more secure staying in the structured environment, although he ventures out at will. He's at present engaged in an affair with his wife's best friend. Encouraged to communicate with his wife, Alain decides to go to Paris to do some banking. He eats with his fellow roomers at the asylum, with a married friend in Paris who has settled down, and finally with some well-to-do associates. Alain has played with a gun he has hidden in his room back at the asylum, and we wonder if he will follow through with a suicide bid. The Fire Within examines a crucial day in a man's life from a non-judgmental point of view. Alain Leroy is first seen making love yet feels no real joy in his life; he's detached from the mainstream of living. All the things he once cared for now seem to be adolescent fancies. His room at the asylum is simply a place to inhabit while waiting for his fate to work itself out. It is decorated with some mildly obsessive details, like a proof sheet of photos of his wife, who he clearly still loves; and morbid news clippings, notably one about the death of Marilyn Monroe. Alain's doctor urges him to return to his wife in New York, and his lover urges him to do the same. But Alain is convinced that his wife has moved on. He doesn't feel up to the task of causing trouble, or trying to turn over a new leaf. He no longer believes in himself. Alain Leroy's various encounters do not place him in a "private trap" like Hitchcock's Norman Bates. He appears to be relaxed and in control of himself. Neither does he live in a morbidly poetic space, like Jacqueline Gibson of Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim. Alain's situation is quite the opposite, in fact. He's decidedly normal when compared to the bickering men at the asylum, or the neurotic woman who always notices when he sleeps elsewhere. Alain doesn't put out disturbed vibes and his dealings with people are always reasonable. He doesn't become upset when a tobacconist doesn't carry an obscure brand. He shows no irritation when people greet him, congratulate him on his return from an alcoholic cure, and then automatically serve him drinks. All Alain knows for certain, is that he's too aware of his own failings with women to deal with romantic problems. He no longer feels aligned with his married friend, an old carousing buddy who has opted for domesticity. Alain expresses no outward alarm with either of those situations, the same way he remains passive when confronted by the busybodies and pretenders among the well-heeled dinner guests at his third meal. Alain's one bright spot is meeting an old girlfriend, Eva (Jeanne Moreau). She breaks off with a client in her art gallery to spend time with him. Eva's not the answer. She likes him and seems to detect something about him that's not quite right, but she's no mind reader. The calm retreat of the asylum has allowed Alain to construct all the perfect defenses against breaking down and expressing his confusion. Why burden others with his pitiful self-doubt? The Fire Within is photographed in smooth B&W. Louis Malles' direction stresses everyday normality. He imposes little outside comment on the story, despite the fact that it begins with a strange voiceover, drops a number of dark hints in the first few minutes and ends with a strange quote. The words describe Alain's final act as a selfish curse: he's making himself into an "indelible stain" that his loved ones will never be able to forget. Criterion's DVD of The Fire Within raises our interest in the film with carefully chosen added-value content. Contemporary film interviews show Louis Malle and Maurice Ronet (who in the film seems a definite Malle surrogate figure) discussing the show, while two interview docus look back at the film's place in the director's career. Malle's Fire Within combines the observations of actress Alexandra Stewart and directors Phillipe Collin and Volker Schlöndorff. Just as Malle had apprenticed himself to Robert Bresson, he took on Schlöndorff as his assistant director, and would soon produce the young German's first feature, Young Törless. The second docu Jusqu'au 23 juillet examines the film in relation to its source novel. The disc producer for Criterion is Abbey Lustgarten. The insert booklet contains helpful essays by Michel Ciment (on the film) and Peter Cowie (on actor Maurice Ronet). For more information about The Fire Within, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Fire Within, go to TCM Shopping by Glenn Erickson

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Filmed on location in Paris and Versailles. Opened in Paris in October 1963 as Le feu follet; running time: 121 min. Released in Italy as Fuoco fatuo.

Miscellaneous Notes

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at the 1963 Venice Film Festival.

Released in United States 1963

Released in United States April 1988

Released in United States August 1963

Released in United States on Video December 2, 1992

Released in United States September 1998

Re-released in United States on Video August 27, 1996

Shown at Louis Malle Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York City April 1988.

Shown at Telluride Film Festival September 3-7, 1998.

Released in United States 1963

Released in United States April 1988 (Shown at Louis Malle Retrospective at Museum of Modern Art, New York City April 1988.)

Released in United States August 1963 (Shown at the Venice Film Festival August, 1963.)

Re-released in United States on Video August 27, 1996

Released in United States September 1998 (Shown at Telluride Film Festival September 3-7, 1998.)

Released in United States on Video December 2, 1992

Shown at the Venice Film Festival August, 1963.