Release List Reviews Price Search Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray/ HD DVD Advertise
DVD Talk
Reviews & Columns
International DVDs
Reviews by Studio
Video Games

Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Anime Talk
DVD Savant
HD Talk
Horror DVDs
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum

DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info



The Fire Within

The Fire Within
Criterion 430
1963 / B&W / 1:66 anamorphic widescreen / 108 min. / Le feu follet / Street Date May 13, 2008 / 29.95
Starring Maurice Ronet, Léna Skerla, Yvonne Clech, , Bernard Noël, Ursula Kubler, Jeanne Moreau
Cinematography Gislain Cloquet
Production Design Bernard Evein
Film Editor Suzanne Baron
Music performed by Claude Helffer
Written by Louis Malle from a book by Pierre Dreiu La Rochelle
Produced by Alain Queffelean
Directed by Louis Malle

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

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.


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).

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Fire Within rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Interviews, documentaries
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: May 28, 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

Go BACK to the Savant Main Page.
Reviews on the Savant main site have additional credits information and are more likely to be updated and annotated with reader input and graphics.

Return to Top of Page

Advertise With Us

Review Staff | About DVD Talk | Newsletter Subscribe | Join DVD Talk Forum
Copyright © MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. | Privacy Policy | Terms of Use

Subscribe to DVDTalk's Newsletters

Email Address

DVD Talk Newsletter (Sample)
DVD Savant Newsletter (Sample)

Release List Reviews Price Search Shop SUBSCRIBE Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray/ HD DVD Advertise