The time of 50’s and 60’s are rendered as gracious times of French films. I always had emphasized the very moment of French new-wave been all with its rising energy, youthful, ever contemporary, defied artificiality from the so called tradition of quality, rather breaking from studio exposing to the real environment, spontaneity, expressions of free willy, experiment with their generation, a very French cinematheque…..
My Night at Maud’s (French tittle; Ma nuit chez Maud) is the year 1969, and one such experiment turned out to be absolute marvel and brilliantly accomplished lynchpin from the Director Eric Rohmer, this is in his series of six moral tales.
Eric Rohmer is often included in that movement, though he’s something of an odd fit. A decade older than Truffaut and Godard’s and with a strong literary bent, he was at times considered somewhat reactionary, or at least conventional, and his first feature films – La Collectioneuse (1967) and Ma nuit chez Maud (1969) – didn’t appear until after the heyday of the New Wave had passed. Yet in at least one significant way, My Night at Maud’s reconnects with something essential – indeed, essentially spiritual – in the foundation of that movement.
Jean-Louis Trintignant plays Jean-Louis, one of the great conflicted figures of sixties cinema. A pious Catholic engineer in his early thirties, he lives by a strict moral code in order to rationalize his world, drowning himself in mathematics and the philosophy of Pascal. He runs into an old friend, the Marxist Vidal (Antoine Vitez), in Clermont-Ferrand around Christmas. Vidal introduces Jean-Louis to the modestly libertine, recently divorced Maud (Françoise Fabian) and the three engage in conversation on religion, atheism, love, morality and Pascal’s life and writings on philosophy, faith and mathematics. Jean-Louis ends up spending a night at Maud’s. Jean-Louis’ Catholic views on marriage, fidelity and obligation make his situation a dilemma, as his rigid ethical standards are challenged.
The film is not only about Jean-Louis’s self-deception or a puerile test of male self-control. Maud draws into her character so completely, and her honesty and ability to see what is happening clearly that draws attention to the ways in which Jean-Louis hypocritically couches his subjective feelings in abstract, balanced, and culturally indorsed terms. Rohmer’s accurate and natural dialogue reveals the characters’ philosophical positions as well as their vulnerabilities, flaws and hopes. The film’s power comes from the impending varieties of the hope for happiness that underlies all of the characters and in their actions, but remains out of reach. Rohmer captures the excitement and anticipation, along with the wariness and fear that accompany our decisions about romance, thus giving the film an unexpected sense of urgency and suspense. The intrigue continues well after Christmas Eve and we see the consequences of Jean-Louis and Maud’s choices and the bittersweet tone continues, ending with a melancholic regret and a rather throbbing wit.
The characters in this film love to talk, and they are virtuous at it. The flow of language, the spin of philosophies is practically intoxicating- the substance of friendship, a means of seduction, the overflow of ample grace, as these characters are so well in their thinking caps, fluent and the argument on Pascal’s wager and applying it to Marx’s theory of history, the question of austerity, the coldness of his calculating slant to creation, disrupting the math, the nod of reasoning of sin as lust, the religion and Christian way of life, and all these composition becomes an essential obsession of the characters. That’s a treat; a cinema can tranquil playing out in the events of the story, where choice, luck, predestination and grace weave together in a spirited metaphysical hop. This piece also sets the introduction of morality into question of choice, so and so discovering the meaning of life itself into the tune of destiny and desire, choice and consequence, are played out with the simple genius in this delicately French, jubilantly catholic little romance, a sensual film about chastity with a head full of ideas.
Rohmer’s approach has often been called literary and a copy book style approach (models of penmanship, a wonderful piece of handwriting). The way in which he weaves moral philosophy and actual quotations from a variety of sources into his characters’ speech is reminiscent of the very middle years of the nineteenth century that marked significant changes in Europe’s social and intellectual climate. This shows Rohmer’s commitment to realism and naturalistic dialogue and settings that make his films specifically cinematic. He combines his cerebral interests with a powerful investigation of everyday life. We see this in the wintry landscape of the rather ordinary streets of Clermont-Ferrand, beautifully shot by the great cinematographer Nestor Almendros. His picture post is so agile capturing the unnatural silence of city streets in the snow as well as the grey slipperiness of roads covered in sludge.
What we watch in all great films is the sleek interactions among characters, captivating us so specific to its plot, and that’s the magic of the film, poignant drive along with a charming lightness, telling its story, and never seeming overly cerebral or melodramatic- My Night at Maud’s appears the complex questions asked in a pure, simple and competent tone and to its day Rohmer is always remembered. This movie was a breakout hit in Europe and United States welcoming 70’s. My Night at Maud’s was one of the most influential and talked-about films even after its 45 years of its release.
The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Films and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival.
- Written and Directed by Eric Rohmer
- Produced by Pierre Cottrell and Barbet Schroeder
- Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant; Françoise Fabian; Marie-Christine Barrault & Antoine Vitez
- Cinematography by Nestor Almendros
- Editing by Cécile Decugis
- Release dates: 15 May 1969
- Running time: 110 minutes
- Country: France
- Language: French