According to its director Louis Malle, "Le Feu Follet" was the first of my first films that I was completely happy with." Adapted by Malle himself from a 1930s novel by the writer Drieu La Rochelle (who took his own life in 1945), it's a darkly unsentimental yet admirably compassionate account of the last 24 hours of a young Parisian on the verge of suicide.
A recovering alcoholic, 30-year-old Alain Leroy (Ronet) has been resting for several months in a private Versailles clinic, his treatment paid for by his American wife who has remained in New York. The doctor (Moulinot) believes that his patient has been cured of his addiction and reassures him that "life is good." But wandering around Paris looking for old friends and drinking pals, Alain discovers to his dismay that his former confidants seem to have betrayed their youthful ideals: Dubourg (Noel) has taken refuge in Egyptology and marriage, Jeanne (Moreau) hangs out with a group of drug-users, whilst the wealthy guests at Solange's (Stewart) dinner-party are smugly reactionary in their views.
Considered by Malle to one of his most personal projects, "Le Feu Follet" (released in England under the title "A Time To Live and A Time To Die") conveys a profound feeling of despair at the emptiness of contemporary society, and examines a recurring Malle theme - the gulf between the generations.
Alain, who claims that he has spent his life "waiting for something to happen", existentially refuses to embrace the compromises of adulthood in the manner of his friends, who he laments "scurry about creating things - children, businesses, books." Gracefully shot in high-contrast black and white, and delicately scored, "Le Feu Follet" 's resonance is also indebted to Ronet's assuredly restrained central performance.
In French with subtitles.