June 12, 2008

The Fire Within and The Lovers


Reviewer: Diana Slampyak

The Fire Within (Le Fou Follet)
Rating (out of 5): ****

In this early film from Louis Malle (one of two just released by Criterion), Alain Leroy (Maurice Ronet, so moodily good as the lover Julien Tavernier in Malle's Elevator to the Gallows), getting over an acute and chronic case of alcoholism, rather reluctantly must leave the alcohol treatment center in which he has been living for months, as the place needs space for those in more dire need of treatment. Leroy fears that the dismissal means he will relapse. But out into the unregulated world he goes.

He wanders around aimlessly, deciding that nothing's worth living for anymore, determined to kill himself within the next few days. Indeed, fires of depression, fear and self-loathing rage within him, as his recurring voice-overs indicate. He meets people from his past who offer no comfort. Alone in the world, he is hell-bent on finishing his plan of recourse. What we see is discomforting, distressing -- and absolutely engrossing.

Ronet's acting is nothing short of brilliant; we can see him falter and try to restart again and again. The supporting players, including Jeanne Moreau, Mona Dol and Bernard Noel, are unilaterally excellent, helping create the film's somber mood. Ghislain Cloquet's acute cinematography adds to this, and as usual Malle's direction is of the highest caliber.

The Criterion DVD is also loaded with excellent extras, including archival interviews with director Malle and actor 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. Definitely bonuses worth a view.


The Lovers
Rating (out of 5): ****½

Jeanne Tournier (Moreau again) is bored. With the countryside, with Paris, with her husband and with her lover. Her life should be filled with excitement - she escapes the confines of rural life and her distant husband, Henri (Alain Cuny), almost every weekend to hang out with her wacky, sophisticated friend, Maggy (Judith Magre) in Paris, watching polo matches and her soon-to-be-lover, Raoul (Jose Luis de Villalonga). But in a morose voice-over, we hear Jeanne's true state of mind - she really can't stand her phony friend, her life in either the country or the city, or her two lovers. What is she to do about it?

Things come to a head when Henri demands that Maggy and Raoul come spend the weekend. In a fool's circle, the four of them do a dance of enemies, squaring off about everything they can think of. Only when a stranger arrives on their doorstep do things get less heated - or more heated, in Jeanne's opinion. What happens comes as quite a surprise.

Short and to the point, The Lovers - also newly arrived and restored from Criterion alongside The Fire Within - shows a depressed woman struggling to do her best to be happy, and Malle allows us into her mind with candor and sensitivity. The cinematography is deft and keeps the story propelling right along. Surprisingly to our sensibilities today, the film was deemed obscene, and a cinema house owner in Cleveland was charged with and convicted of possessing and showing an obscene film. The ruling was later overturned. At the time, the frank sexuality shown may have been risqué, but is relatively tame compared with what we see today (the Criterion disc is the complete, uncensored version). But this lovely film is worth seeing for many other reasons, including the obvious care that went into it. And the acting is superb - Moreau really shows her chops in an early film role.

There aren't as many extras on this disc but it does include archival interviews with Louis Malle, actors Moreau and de Villalonga, and writer Louise de Vilmorin. A treat.

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Posted by cphillips at June 12, 2008 3:54 PM
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