Tag Archives: Alexandra Stewart

The Fire Within (1963, Louis Malle)

Director Malle sets up The Fire Within as a series of events. They don’t feel like events–or even vignettes–because protagonist Maurice Ronet is so transfixing. As the film progresses and the viewer gets to know Ronet better, gets to understand him better, Fire changes. The film is always about Ronet’s plans, Ronet’s actions and how the viewer anticipates them, but once it becomes clear he’s not in control… Well, it doesn’t just change the last third of the film, it changes the first two-thirds of it as well.

Ronet is a recovering alcoholic. He can’t get out of his recovery clinic. The first third of the film, after beautifully establishing his normal days by showing an abnormal one (visiting with his lover–and his absentee wife’s friend–played by Léna Skerla), is mostly just Ronet by himself. Fire is about monotony but never monotonous. Malle has to establish Ronet’s routines to best break them later.

The majority of the film takes place during Ronet’s day trip to Paris. He’s suicidal, saying goodbye to friends from his old life as an amiable, popular Parisian drunk. He’s not an artist, but he’s friends with artists. He’s not an intellectual, but he’s friends with intellectuals.

Fire is simultaneously an exploration of Ronet’s alcoholism (after the fact) and the society he’s abandoned. Malle’s able to juxtapose the two so successfully because of the film’s structure–Ronet moves from conversation to conversation, person to person, moment to moment. It wouldn’t work without the gorgeous black and white photography from Ghislain Cloquet but, technically, the marvel is Suzanne Baron’s editing. Whether cuts between scenes or cuts between shots, Baron brings a calm to even the most hectic moments. Given Malle frequently cuts to closer shots to emphasis Ronet, then out again to longer ones (though never too long, even outdoors), Baron’s ability to maintain that tranquility is even more impressive.

Acting-wise, Ronet is the whole show. He’s surrounded by great performances, but they’re all in small parts. Jeanne Moreau is wonderful, but it’s basically a cameo. Same goes for Bernard Noël. They’re great, but they’re great because Ronet’s so great. The chemistry between the actors, how Malle has a slightly different style for each interaction, all while maintaining a particular deliberateness.

The Fire Within devastates, but it’s also glorious in its intensity. It’s relentless and breathtaking.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Louis Malle; screenplay by Malle, based on a novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle; director of photography, Ghislain Cloquet; edited by Suzanne Baron; production designer, Bernard Evein; released by Lux Compagnie Cinématographique de France.

Starring Maurice Ronet (Alain Leroy), Jean-Paul Moulinot (Dr. La Barbinais), Bernard Noël (Dubourg), Jeanne Moreau (Eva), Alexandra Stewart (Solange) and Léna Skerla (Lydia).


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Mickey One (1965, Arthur Penn)

Mickey One is what happens when you mix an American attempt at French New Wave and a director (Arthur Penn) experienced in television directing. Arthur Penn did eventually shed those old TV trappings, but certainly not at this point in his career. He’s got lots of shots in Mickey One–its editing is so frantic and the camera angles, while mostly familiar TV ones, never return once cut from–and it actually reminds of a Michael Bay movie. Really.

The story is intentionally complicated (that French New Wave attempt), with Warren Beatty maybe on the run from the mob and maybe not. Beatty’s a stand-up comic of the Hennie Youngman variety and Beatty’s terrible at delivering the jokes. The role requires something Beatty can’t bring to it, some depth, while all his inflictions are the same (except when he’s trying an accent, which are some painful moments).

The film’s interesting mostly because I kept waiting for something tricky to happen. After a while, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge becomes a serious possibility. The film’s intentionally absurd, intentionally nonsensical, but it isn’t done in any sort of admirable way. There’s a bunch of fluff, swirling and mixing, and there’s nothing underneath. It runs short, around ninety-two minutes, and it really moves–because it doesn’t have scenes for the most part, just the ends of them, another pointless stylistic choice. It is an incredibly different film, but it’s also an example of when being different isn’t the same as being good. That observation made, it’s a passable way to spend ninety minutes, just a shockingly empty film from Arthur Penn, whose great works are usually 20,000 fathoms deep.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed and produced by Arthur Penn; written by Alan M. Surgal; director of photography, Ghislan Cloquet; edited by Aram Avakian; music by Eddie Sauter; production designer, George Jenkins; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Warren Beatty (The Comic), Alexandra Stewart (Jenny), Hurd Hatfield (Castle), Franchot Tone (Rudy Lopp), Teddy Hart (Berson), Jeff Corey (Fryer) and Fujiwara Kamatari (The Artist).


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