Friday, January 8, 2016

The France on Film Blogathon

Summer of Serendipitous Anachronisms is hosting a blogathon where the subject matter is the birthplace of the hot air balloon, the bikini and modern dry cleaning: France. Whether it's films from and/or set in France (read: almost always in Paris), the objective is to discuss films involving the country where cinema was created. So what film will I be discussing?

(1963, dir. Louis Malle)

This is one of those films that I myself didn't know of until a few years back, and it became a film that left an indelible mark on me. (Thank you again, Alex, for the recommendation all those years ago.) And I hope you'll seek it out too after reading it.

The Fire Within isn't your average film about addiction. Its protagonist Alain Leroy (Maurice Ronet) has long since cleaned up his act when we first meet him. (He's undergoing treatment for his alcoholism at a Versailles clinic.) But his depression only worsens, and his solution is a gun.

During his last day, he returns to Paris to meet up with friends from his drinking days. Those he encounters remark on either how sickly he now looks or (when Alain's not quite out of earshot) how awful his drinking was. Through forced smiles, they try to act civil towards Alain but the disgust over his past actions appear in their words.

The main score of Erik Satie compositions adds a certain sadness to The Fire Within. The quiet chime of piano keys capture Alain's lingering sense of despair (noticeably so during the scene at the café). And the occasional fast pace of the music also embodies Alain's building anxiety as he tries -- just tries -- to stay composed around others.

The cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet also adds to the film's lonely nature. We see what Alain sees, we feel what Alain feels. He is nothing more than a ghost in the world whose indulgences have destroyed him.

The numerous items strewn throughout Alain's room could resonate with anyone who's been in a similar situation as him. Small trinkets, pictures from happier times, newspaper clippings of gruesome stories...they may mean nothing to anyone else but to the person who owns these things, they're what keeps them connected to the world they've drifted away from.

Ronet's performance is one of many to depict the crippling effects of addiction but his shows a darker element only a few dare to venture. Ronet, who never garnered the same amount of popularity as contemporaries Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo, shows the deeply broken spirit of a former alcoholic. Like Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend, he plays Alain as a man who tries valiantly to resist temptation but eventually succumbs to them.

Malle made this after finding success with Elevator to the Gallows (which also featured Ronet) and The Lovers. With The Fire Within, Malle makes the most mature film of his prolific career. (It's also worth mentioning that prior to making this, Malle was experiencing the same personal crises as Alain. Thankfully he went a different way than Alain.)


  1. This sounds grim and mesmerizing. It also appears to have a lot of atmosphere, as evidenced by the terrific images you've posted. Sounds like a must-see movie! :)

  2. Anna, sorry for my late response.

    This movie sounds and intense, and Alain's despair seems so visceral, I loved your description of his emotional state and sense of isolation. This movie seems incredibly sad, and you treated this film with grace. thank you for your contribution to the France On Film Blogathon.


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