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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

LE FEU FOLLET / THE FIRE WITHIN (1963)

Drunks are boring. Reformed drunks? Even more boring. And French existential, nihilist, suicidal, narcissistic, literary reformed drunks? Don’t ask. It’s only when put thru some dramatic prism, be it comic, grotesque or poetic, that drunks become interesting . . . at least, if you’re not drinking with them. But in Louis Malle’s much admired adaptation from Drieu La Rochelle’s novel, Maurice Ronet fades away from his friends, his life & himself with such intense plainspoken honesty, it creates an unsolvable (or is that insoluble?) dramatic problem. The film is almost too carefully composed, with punctuating close-ups and tricky editing that begs to be noticed at just the wrong moment. Ronet toes a fine line between pathetic & sympathetic, but the rest of the fine cast are reduced to playing backboard to one character flaw after another. Only Jeanne Moreau, in an enchanting bit, is allowed her own wholeness & mysteries. Or, she is until an odd send off leaves her in some sort of opium-infused literary salon out of the '20s. (Something left over from the novel?) Many will feel infinite sadness watching Ronet give it up after turning the last page of GATSBY; and even those who don’t may understand how important it was for Malle to get this out of his system before he could move on.

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