My Night at Maud's (1969)
June 30, 2022 3:21 PM - Subscribe

The rigid principles of a devout Catholic man are challenged during a one-night stay with Maud, a divorced woman with an outsize personality.

Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a devout Roman Catholic who subscribes to an austere moral code influenced by the philosophy of Blaise Pascal. When he spots a pretty girl (Marie-Christine Barrault) at church, he promises to one day marry her. But then an old friend (Antoine Vitez) introduces him to alluring divorcee Maud (Françoise Fabian). After a conversation about love and philosophy, the chaste Jean-Louis spends the night at Maud's place, conflicted about what he desires.

Roger Ebert: And then follows one of the most marvelously observed scenes of human behavior I can remember in a film. The two people talk nearly all night. Maud is in her nightgown and sits in bed propped up against her pillows. Jean-Louis sits in one chair or another, or walks around the room. They talk about sex, love, marriage and divorce. The conversation moves from flippancy to intimacy, and then has a way of drawing back from too much truth-telling.

The choreography of the scene perfectly reflects its content. Occasionally, Jean-Louis sits on the edge of the bed. Once he even leans toward her, to share a confidence. But then he retreats. She asks for a cigarette at one time, a drink of water at another. These are ploys to lure him closer, and he has his own. But there are times, when she signals that he's violating her personal space, or territorial imperative, or whatever it's called. And he reads the signals and moves away, apparently by chance.

To write about this long, magnificent scene is inadequate; it must be seen. It is a triumph of direction, certainly. But because Rohmer lets his camera go for long takes, the actors are floating free of his pre-shot instructions and can actually be seen to relate to each other personally. The scene is terribly subtle, but anyone who has ever tried to read someone else's mind through his behavior and movements (and that includes you and me, certainly), will be fascinated by it.

Penelope Houston: Rohmer's film is set in Clermont-Fer- rand—the district, we are rather slyly reminded, from which Pascal came—and his characters are somewhat preoccupied with Pascalian references, like that Wager theory which provides the classic defence for any backer of Long shots in theology, philosophy or otherwise. His central character, Jean- Louis, belongs to the new French techno- cracy: he's an engineer, working for Michelin, a practising Catholic, diffident, serious, a bit uneasy outside his own disciplines. In church he watches the pale profile of a blonde named Francoise, an elusive bicyclist whom he loses, Hitch- cockianly, in the town's turtling streets, but whom, with a kind of arbitrariness almost indistinguishable from indolence, he decides he is destined to marry. His chaste, teasing night in the company of Maud, the bewitching, free-thinking, divorced doctor whom he meets after a chance encounter with an old friend, proves the sort of digression on which crucial decisions turn. It propels him actively towards Francoise. Maud shakes-his principles; Francoise shares them; and in settling for his predestined blonde, Jean-Louis is recognising the limits of his own nature. Not surprisingly, he isn't entirely sure of Pascal's relevance.

But if the film's morality is in this precise interplay of chance, choice and instincts about predestination (Ma Nuit chez Maud is one of a series of films specifically designated by the writer-director as conies moraux), Rohmer's virtuous love story is also superbly defined for the screen in terms of a time and a place. It belongs to the dull. flat Christmas holiday in a busy town where none of the characters is quite at home. Slushy snow is thickening the streets, cars stick on strange, frozen roads, and Maud's lamplight and furs shine brighter against Francoise's chilly student hostel. Jean-Louis' resistance—wrapping himself in a kind of armour of fur rug, and peeping fretfully and sceptically over the top of it—is the comical correct last stand of an irresolute puritan against what Rohmer calls l'amour par des- oeurrement, love born from boredom and circumstance.

The non-hero perhaps needs all Jean- Louis Trintignant's charm : he's a deliberately dull stick magnetised by an ac- tor. But a sense of limitation and wistful possibility is woven into the film's cool and glancing texture. Cerebral flirtation is played against the wan love scene in falling snow, with its blurred background of church spires. Nice, melancholy Francoise (Marie- Christine Barrault) replaces Francoise Fabian's brilliant, glowing Maud not at the film's centre (Maud has that firmly staked out) but as the wife for this church-going engineer. Rohmer's discerning. witty comedy of sense and sensibility reaches a conclusion defined by the limitations, potential and truth of his characters. It's shadowed by the regrets accompanying choices (or destinies) which are right, but also righteous.

Vincent Canby: Although a quick dip into Pascal's "Pensées" would not hurt before seeing the film, there is so much wit-in-context that it is not absolutely necessary. Most refreshing is the sight and sound of four characters who are articulate, interested, informed, educated, amused, vulnerable, totally free of epigrams and aware of their identities. Their only concern is the manner in which they will realize those identities, and whether it will be by choice, predestination or simple luck.The film is beautifully played, that is, as written, which is almost as if it were music. The camera literally and figuratively never looks down or up at the characters. It faces them straight on, the better to catch some completely unexpected moments of intimacy and humor."Ma Nuit Chez Maud" is set in Clermont, a town of something over 100,000 citizens, southwest of Paris, where Pascal was born in 1623. For more data, you'll have to search your own "Pensées," and the film, both of which might be most agreeable.

posted by Carillon (1 comment total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Wow, I loved this. Jean-Louis here was so good in this, the moments where he's disconcerted are some of my favorite pieces of acting in this, there are a few times when his face just goes through a bunch of different types of discontentment, specifically when she mentions that there isn't a another space room and that this is all there is to sleep.
posted by Carillon at 3:24 PM on June 30, 2022

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