The Fire Within (1963, Louis Malle)

“Tomorrow I kill myself.”

The score by Erik Satie probably sounds familiar because it was used in a Wilson brothers scene in “Royal Tenenbaums”. Luke W. later tries to kill himself right after quoting Alain Leroy into the mirror. I’d always wondered why he says “tomorrow” when he’s killing himself right then.

It’s a sharp-looking black-and-white movie about Alain Leroy’s last two days alive, because he sure enough kills himself at the end. Kind of the opposite of “Zazie dans le metro”, which I watched right before. Because of the harsh sudden downturn in emotion from “Zazie” and the late hour it aired, I was in an annoyed daze through this one. I know that Alain visited a lot of friends but I couldn’t tell you which was Jeanne Moreau from “elevator to the gallows” or even Yvonne Clech from “zazie”. So here’s the NY Times’ character round-up:

“Lydia, his wife’s friend, wants desperately to marry him. Life, his understanding doctor says, is worth living. Dubourg, his one-time carousing sidekick, has found peace and certainty in his studies of Egyptology and with a good woman and her children. Jeanne, the disenchanted painter, is, likewise, a kindred soul but unable to possess his imagination and love. Bernard Noel, as the kindly Dubourg; Lena Skerla, as his wife’s loving friend; Jeanne Moreau, as the jaded but understanding artist, and Jacques Sereys and Alexandra Stewart, as his rich friends, are some of the fine portraits in this gallery of generally off-beat Parisians.”


Guess I didn’t like it much. The movie’s not ultra-depressing because Alain’s friends are alive and hopeful enough to continue – without diving deep into his own inner thoughts, it makes him out as dysfunctional, unable and unwilling to take control of his life. So it’s not a harsh unforgiving world (in fact, the world is very tastefully shot by the guy who later shot “young girls of rochefort”), it’s just Alain’s problem. Made in tribute to a suicidal friend of Malle’s as well as a tribute to Malle’s own reckless youth. Admirable, just not enjoyable.

TCM: “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.”


NY Times: “highly introspective, often tenderly touching and sometimes tediously redundant”… “A viewer can appreciate the delicate exploration of Alain Leroy’s mind and heart but he is so special a case that it is extremely difficult to relate to his highly special tragic condition. One is often more attracted to the loving or well-meaning people who are seriously anxious to aid and comfort him.”

Roger Ebert: “The film is a triumph of style. It is quiet and indicative. It doesn’t explain a lot, but we understand a lot about it all the same. And in the concerned, indifferent, kind, cruel behavior of his friends, we see ourselves acting toward people like him, or acted toward by people like them. Rarely does a film so carefully portray this complexity of personal relationships.”

Shooting Down Pictures: “One of the recurring visual fascinations of this film is its preoccupation with people’s gazes, particularly at Alain. … I think this paradox, that humans’ attentions in each other, their gazes, their advances, can be full of energy and vitality and simultaneously empty and dehumanizing, is a substantial line of investigation offered by the film (moreso than its insights into the suicidal mind).”