Clare's Criterion Collection

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Review # 17 – The Fire Within

The Fire Within

Spine # 430

Available on DVD

Special Features:

  • New, restored high-definition digital transfer
  • Archival interviews with director Louis Malle and actor Maurice Ronet
  • Malle’s Fire Within, a new video program featuring interviews with actor Alexandra Stewart and filmmakers Philippe Collin and Volker Schlöndorff
  • Jusqu’au 23 Juillet, a 2005 documentary short about the film and its source novel Le feu follet, by Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, featuring actor Mathieu Amalric, writer Didier Daeninckx, and Cannes festival curator Pierre-Henri Deleau
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring new essays by critic Michel Ciment and film historian Peter CowieNew cover by Rodrigo Corral

Every fortnight the Members of my online film club pick the film they wish to screen for everyone else. One recent choice was this film by Louis Malle called The Fire Within.  I will admit that this review has taken me a long time to write, I have actually watched the film twice due to complex nature. I found the 2nd viewing to be very helpful in understanding more about our main character, Alain.

We meet Alain in bed with Lydia, a friend of both him and his Wife Dorothy, who lives in New York. Thus our day starts; the day Alain plans to be his last. Our role in this film is to watch the rather bleak but equally powerful actions; thoughts and inner turmoil of someone who wants to commit suicide, hopefully empathise and try to understand why.

Alain is a resident at a rather grand and fancy looking clinic. He is an alcoholic and suffers from depression. People tell him, and he believes himself, that he is cured. If he is cured then why does he stay there? His own reasoning is “I like it there”. Life at the clinic provides order, it is simple and he has shelter. He needs this as “everything scares me”, and he describes himself as a “coward”.

The vast majority of the day takes place in Paris as Alain catches up with old friends and lovers.   Their words and actions were quite unsettling and as the film progressed I began to ask the same questions over and over.

Does he actually like any of his friends?

Why do they let him drink?

Whenever he leaves, comments such as “poor boy” and “he looks ill” reverberate from one person to the next. Their patronising manner is quite sickening to be honest. Their friend is highly anxious, always doubting himself as to why he does not want to leave the clinic and start to live his life again as a everyday person yet they offer no genuine help.  A comment to his Doctor “life is good” is heartfelt and equally sad.

This film throws up many questions about mental illness, addiction, suicide and other aspects of life that, to another on the outside, can seem to be trivial.  There is never an easy “one size fits all” answer when faced with any of  these situations.  When they are all mixed together you have The Fire Within, how that fire burns, is personal.

EDIT – I forgot to mention the music and cinematography during this film.  Lovely piano music perfectly accompanied the film, not too harsh, just right.  The scenes of Paris were equally perfect, the park, the pavement cafe and the grand buildings, they all fitted with the theme of the story.

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