The Fire Within

Louis Malle's The Fire Within (1963) is a masterful film whose existential malaise never overtakes its cinematic beauty. The film -- which is based on a novel, by Pierre Drieu La Rochelle, of the same name as the movie's original title, Le Feu Follet -- follows a recovering alcoholic's swelling disenchantment with life. From the opening scene, in which the main character, Alain Leroy, gazes upon the face of his mistress in a doomed effort to grasp the quintessence of her identity, the movie's grown-up tone is set. But although Alan wears a tie and fastidiously employs the formal mode of address ("vous") even with his confidants, he is a man who is uneasy with the pressures of adulthood. (Indeed, Malle makes us feel the weight of something as seemingly benign as cashing a check at the bank.) Early in the picture, we see that Alain has forebodingly written the date July 23 on the mirror in his room at the medical clinic where he is undergoing rehab. When one considers the many points of correspondence that both the film and the novel share with its creators, the mirror becomes a potent symbol of the story's intimate atmosphere: The book was inspired by the suicide of La Rochelle's friend the Dadaist poet Jacques Rigaut. La Rochelle would later go on to end his own life. The actor who plays Alain, Maurice Ronet, was himself given to drink. Furthermore, not only did Malle give Ronet his own clothes to wear during the shoot; he also gave him his own pistol to use. Watching this film, I couldn't help but recall Albert Camus's unforgettable postulation, "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide." The Fire Within treats this theme with the surpassing intelligence and empathy demanded by such a subject.

July 24: On this day in 1725 John Newton, the slave trader-preacher who wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace," was born.

Crime fiction legends Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly discuss the new book that unites their beloved sleuths Patrick Kenzie and Harry Bosch.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Paradise and Elsewhere

Canadian short story marvel Kathy Page emerges as the Alice Munro of the supernatural from these heartfelt tales of shapeshifting swimmers, mild-mannered cannibals, and personality-shifting viruses transmitted through kisses.


When a persuasive pastor arrives in a sleepy farm town, his sage influence has otherworldly results (talking sheep, a mayor who walks on water). But can he pull off the miracle of finding kindly local Liz Denny the love of her life?  Small wonder looms large in this charmer from Andre Alexis.

The Hundred-Year House

When a poetry scholar goes digging through the decrepit estate of his wife's family to uncover a bygone arts colony's strange mysteries, he awakens a tenacious monster: his mother-in-law. A wickedly funny take on aging aristocracies from author Rebecca Makkai (The Borrower).