Louis Malle made his film when he was 30, after having had great success, because, as he tells it, he suddenly felt that life had no meaning. Nothing mattered, he said, and so he made this film--about an alcoholic writer just released from a drying-out clinic who calmly decides to kill himself--as a way of exorcising his demons and his depression. He was not an alcoholic himself but had a close friend who'd killed himself. In fact, the actor who plays Alain, the marvelous Maurice Ronet, had periodic problems with alcoholism, and at Malle's insistence, lost 40 lbs. to play the part of the existentially despairing hero. The director was so obsessed with the character of Alain that he had Ronet wear many of his (Malle's) clothes and put his personal effects around the rooms Alain inhabited. The shoot was uncomfortably intense for everyone on the set, because it was so personal for Malle as its director, and for Ronet because the character was so close to who he was.
The disturbing fact of this wholly absorbing film is that for some people there is no fix or cure for life. Some have perceived Alain as self-pitying, lazy, or self-obsessed, but look at the café scene where he watches all the people drift breezily by, in twos and threes, chatting, connected to each other, and you can almost feel the excruciating loneliness of the outsider looking in, unable to feel a part. His reaction is to down his cognac, but he knows the booze can no longer dull the pain he feels that he cannot love or be loved. He loathes himself because he cannot locate that essential capacity in himself and death seems to be the only answer. This is the most eviscerating portrayal of alcoholism and man's search for meaning that I've ever seen, and a sad testament to the fact that people do die of loneliness.
Malle was asked if he regained his sense of meaning after he made this film. Yes, he said, I felt very alive, but I also knew my meaning had to come through being connected to other people. And he was.