Death of a Lady's man

“I always served women and I did it without compromise until the end, with respect and love.” - Yves St. Laurent.

LI – who has advised our readers, last week, to spend their hard earned dough on Isabel Marant fall ensembles - was contemplating writing an obit post about Saint Laurent yesterday. Well, we didn’t. Instead, we watched Louis Malle’s Feu Follet (rather bizarrely translated as The Fire Inside), which by coincidence was about the cultural mix of the era in which Saint Laurent first rose to prominence at Dior.

Malle directed four films that, between them, constitute a physiognomy of the French right – Au revoir les enfant, Souffle au Coeur, Lacombe, Lucien and Feu Follet. World war ii, Indochina, Algeria – betrayal, incest, suicide. Politics, here, is a sickness arising from the very heart of the bourgeoisie’s Lebensordnung. The sixties was the moment that changed – affluence significantly eroded the old triangle of Country, Work, Home, and a significant portion of the children of the bourgeoisie went left.

It was the lot of the fascist intellectual to travel, by the most destructive of possible paths, to a moment of absolute self condemnation. Hitler’s suicide was a template for all of them. Wyndham Lewis, that master of titles, entitled his post WWII novel Self-condemned for good reason. Feu Follet is based on Drieu la Rochelle’s novel, written in the twenties, when Drieu was still involved with the avant garde. But it resonates, of course, with Drieu La Rochelle’s career, capped by the heady collaboration with the Nazis, and his own suicide in the farce of Sigmaringen (which Celine has written about) in 1945.

Malle had an uncanny sense of exactly how the right works as a circle – as a social milieu. The conjunction of a language straight out of Flaubert’s dictionnaire des idees recues, the assumption that tools can easily be bought to destroy any personal problem, which is at the origin of the louche bullying style that can crop up anywhere, and the amazing charm – oh, the charm of these people, especially the women. Beauty, manners, an air of complete intention. The film keeps Maurice Ronet, the actor who plays the lead here, an alcoholic man about town, Alain Leroy, at the center or on the edge of most of the shots. He’s a beautiful man to look at – this film really does convey what it means to be a lady’s man. The only comparable American film on the subject is Shampoo. It is a rich subject. LI has known one real lady’s man in our life – a man who lived to seduce women, who devoted himself to the rituals, the micro-sadisms, the being thrown out of apartments, the need to revenge every fuck, the uncanny ability to zero in on, to situate himself in, a woman’s narcissism and operate from that point onward. It is a series of campaigns. Leroy is an ex military man, out of Algeria, in Malle’s film, a friend of the far right paramilitaries who came out of that war. He is going down, his campaigns have all brought him to naught. Yet even as he goes down he excites the sidelong glance in the stranger. He has a perfect face. It is like Terry Lennox’s face in Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. In fact, the beginning of the Long Goodbye is in the very tone of Malle’s film:

The first time I laid eyes on Terry Lennox he was drunk in a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith outside the terrace of The Dancers. The parking lot attendant had brought the car out and he was still holding the door open because Terry Lennox's left foot was still dangling outside, as if he had forgotten he had one. He had a young-looking face but his hair was bone white. You could tell by his eyes that he was plastered to the hairline, but otherwise he looked like any other nice young guy in a dinner jacket who had been spending too much money in a joint that exists for that purpose and for no other.

Alain Boyer has a spiritual kinship with Terry Lennox, but less canniness. American lady’s men survive. There’s no suicide for them.

There’s a beautiful scene in the film where he sits in a restaurant, contemplating drinking a cognac. It is the Cafe de Flore. He watches the people walking by out on the street. It is a simple montage, and yet, Malle shows exactly how it is seen – one sees it as a man who has condemned himself sees it. These people, their clothes, their hairdoes, their busy gestures, their cars - their matter - are purposeless. Suicide and total war are joined in that glance.