LE FEU FOLLET (1963)
Louis Malle had already made a name for himself with early works depicting murder plots, passion and adolescence, but it was the devastating theme of alcoholism that cemented Malle as one of the genuine greats of the New Wave. With Le Feu Follet, he presented a quietly suffering and inevitable fated figure character in the shape of Maurice Ronet.
Alain is a struggling alcoholic with an estranged wife in New York who has spent several months in a halfway house in Versailles to maintain his sobriety. He’s first seen staying with her for a night, despite the clinics rules, and suggesting he will not see her again upon his return to the clinic. He confesses to the doctor his fear over leaving the clinic, feeling that the time inside is the only thing keeping him sober. Ultimately he decides to commit suicide the following day, using his final hours to visit Paris seeing past friends, in a seemingly hopeless cause to find reason to keep living.
From the start it appears he is set on ending his life, even before he expresses it, with the way he gives a hotel maid his watch as a tip the sort of behaviour that appears to be more than an overpolite gesture and something more troubling in regards to his mental state.
Whereas Leaving Las Vegas and The Lost Weekend focused on determined alcoholism, this focused on the battle to maintain sobriety and the pursuit of what comes next when alcoholism appears to have made its mark.
It appears his journey towards self-destruction is inevitable with the brutal reality coming from how his life has got to a point where death is the only way to escape such a cruel addiction punctuated by the haunting music of Erik Satie, notably the use of Gymnopedie.
He goes ahead with his plan, alone yet unafraid but his suicide lingers long after, the feeling of the inability to find purpose in spite of the number of people who appear to care about him more poignant upon reflection.
Malle demonstrated an eye for mise-en-scene with scenes of Alain alone in his room with newspaper clippings of obituaries and the lurking shot of the gun, presenting a room of tragedy in a location designed to prevent it.
Bleak but insightful, Le Feu Follet was 60s French cinema at its most marvellous, showcasing career-best work from both it’s director and lead actor.