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Wes Anderson Selects Louis Malle’s ‘The Fire Within’ for Carte-Blanche Programming Screening at COL*COA 2013

Wes Anderson Selects Louis Malle's 'The Fire Within' for Carte-Blanche Programming Screening at COL*COA 2013

LA’s 17th annual City of Lights, City of Angels French film festival (COL*COA) has given director Wes Anderson carte-blanche to program one of his favorite French films. No surprise here, Anderson’s taste is impeccable: He has selected Louis Malle’s 1963 lyrical depression drama “The Fire Within.”

The film is based on the novel by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, source material that also inspired last year’s festival favorite “Oslo, August 31.” It stars Maurice Ronet (also in Malle’s “Elevator to the Gallows”) and French New Wave legend Jeanne Moreau. (For more evidence of Anderson’s cinephile leanings, check out his Top 10 for Criterion here.)

Moreau is highlighted in another COL*COA repertory pick for the upcoming 2013 fest, Jacques Demy’s resplendent “Bay of Angels,” about a duo of star-crossed lovers caught in the glittery world of Mediterranean casinos. It will screen in a restored 35mm print.

The fest runs April 15-22. Info on screening dates, as well as COL*COA’s complete new film lineup, will be announced March 26. 

Here’s a scene from “The Fire Within,” featuring Claude Helffler’s beautifully evocative piano, from music by composer Eric Satie:

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Victor Enyutin

“Fire Within” by Luis Malle (1963) makes the viewers ask themselves and try to answer – why Alain Leroy, an intelligent, good looking man, successful with women and having friends with connections, thinks about suicide? Is there something wrong with him, and if so, what can it be? He doesn’t look like an eccentric in any way. He talks like an educated and a genuine human being, without affectation and rhetorical effects. Why could he lose the feeling of life’s value? His psychiatrist tries to persuade him to concentrate on bright side of life – the world’s challenges and mysteries, to give himself to the joys of sex and adventure. But Alain contemplates suicide not because something is wrong with him (he is quite able to enjoy life), but because something is wrong with the world. He observes that life makes people too worried, too frustrated and too indifferent or cruel to one another. He feels that the human world is crooked and he tries to understand why, and it is at this point he became disappointed in life as it is offered to us.

Luis Malle gives Alain the floor/screen, gives him the chance to explain to the viewers what the problem is. With never fading curiosity and sometimes amazement we observe Alain’s “philosophical agony” vis-à-vis the human world we all live in. And the director gives more than a fair chance to Alain’s friends to try to persuade him to continue to live. The film is constructed as a kind of Platonic dialogues between a human being and world, through visual images and interpersonal situations. The film is in no way “theoretical”: all the arguments are symbolic and existentially rooted. The film is for the living human beings, not for intellectuals by profession. We as viewers are given chance to see both sides – the individual human being and the world in general. We, as if, have to decide for Alain his choice.

Did Alain die in order to help us continue to live? May be, Malle made this film to reinforce our desire to live if we are able to comprehend Alain’s reasons for wanting to die. Will Alain’s suicide awaken us to a more genuine, less vain living?

The actors are emotionally sensitive, intellectually proficient and semantically competent. They play characters caught between life and death, as we all are. “Fire Within” is not only an exquisitely “intellectual” but an existentially “philosophical” film of a rare organic combination of psychological sophistication and common humanity for all those who are living and thinking about life. Victor Enyutin


He loved this film so much that he took a line directly from this film and put it in The Royal Tenenbaums, even though it made no sense considering the circumstances (don't want to spoil it by telling you what happens). This juxtaposition and disconnect between the character's actions and his words creates one of the most fascinating scenes in all of Wes Anderson's movies.

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