Jeanne Moreau

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.



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).

The Bride Wore Black (1968, François Truffaut)

I watched this film on a recommendation, since I’ve mostly sworn off Truffaut. I’d read it was one of his Hitchcock homages (and anything has to be better than Mississippi Mermaid) but I really wasn’t expecting so much “homage.” Besides the Bernard Herrmann score, which is identical to his more famous Hitchcock scores, mostly Vertigo, Truffaut fills the first act with enough Hitchcock references, I almost thought I was watching a Brian DePalma movie. The film starts fairly bad–there are no sympathetic characters, except a child, his mother, and his schoolteacher, none of whom are particularly pertinent–and Truffaut asks a lot for his first thirty minutes. He expects the audience to watch not because it’s interesting, but because it’s Jeanne Moreau. Now, while this sort of practice drives old Hollywood films and some Hong Kong films today, Truffaut doesn’t do the extra work to make Moreau interesting. She does eventually get interesting, but it’s an hour in, when the film’s already beginning its long, predictable wrap-up.

Moreau is going around killing sexist pigs (which actually has nothing to do with the plot–all the men in the film are sexist pigs) and part of the grabber is supposed to be the audience’s ignorance as to her motive. Unfortunately, once the motive is revealed and is innocuous and lame, the film loses a lot of potential energy. Worse (since it was only potential energy), after killing two of the men with detailed plans, the others go offhand (and in one case, off camera). Since all the male parts are bad guys and all the non-Moreau female parts are microscopic, there’s not a lot of interesting acting going on in the film. Michel Lonsdale, as a slimy politician, has a lot of fun and he gives the film’s best performance. Moreau is fine, but so distant, it’d be hard for her not to be fine. She’s not doing anything….

While I know Truffaut is the guy who brought Hitchcock back, I really don’t think he gets Hitchcock. I’ve never seen any of DePalma’s gratuitous Hitchcock films so I don’t know if he gets it either (I doubt it), but a lot of what works with Hitchcock is the characters. The extreme is probably Rear Window, when all of the characters are likable, but Vertigo is up there too–when the characters make you feel. Even when Hitchcock wasn’t getting it to work, wasn’t making people care about the characters (The Birds), he was at least trying. Janet Leigh and Martin Balsam give the two most important performances in Psycho, after all. Truffaut doesn’t get that aspect of the films. His characters are flat and he’s all about the set pieces throughout the film. The end is particularly bad, when Truffaut goes and shows he doesn’t think his audience has an iota of intellect.

I should have stuck to my boycott.



Directed by François Truffaut; written by Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard, based on the novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Raoul Coutard; edited by Claudine Bouché; music by Bernard Herrmann; produced by Marcel Berbert; released by Lopert Pictures.

Starring Jeanne Moreau (Julie), Jean-Claude Brialy (Corey), Michel Bouquet (Coral), Charles Denner (Fergus), Claude Rich (Bliss), Daniel Boulanger (Holmes) and Michel Lonsdale (Morane).

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