Director: Eric Rohmer
This film ranked #43 in Time Out's list of the 100 greatest French films. Click here to see the full list.
Eric Rohmer’s 1969 work, a decade into his slow mutation from Cahiers critic to director, made his name outside of France and preceded such enduring works as ‘Pauline at the Beach’ and ‘The Green Ray’.
The title suggests some sort of saucy nocturnal encounter, but the truth is more austere, if no less captivating. The film gives us Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a dapper 34-year-old engineer with a good line in wry, toothy smiles who works for Michelin in Clermont-Ferrand. He’s lived in Canada and Chile, enjoyed a few girlfriends, but now he’s single, serious and more committed to his religion and future.
We meet Jean-Louis in church, on Christmas Eve, where he spies a young blonde, Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault), who he determines to marry. He follows her in his car, but she soon disappears and he bumps into Vidal (Antoine Vitez), an old friend and teacher at the local university. Vidal is an atheist and Marxist who has less rigid ideas about love and marriage, and their chat allows Rohmer to explore various ideas relating to life, relationships and our place in the world before (or perhaps in the absence of) God.??Vidal invites Jean-Louis for dinner at the flat of his sometime lover Maud (Françoise Fabian), a good-looking, liberal doctor who’s a divorcee and single mother. When Vidal leaves for the evening and encourages Jean-Louis to stay with Maud, there’s a brief will-they-won’t-they episode – but Rohmer is more interested in behaviour and motive than titillation. Using Maud as a moral torch, he shines a light on Jean-Claude’s ideas. But Maud is more than just a foil: she’s a complex, alluring, smart character, an encapsulation of modern thinking with whom we sympathise as much as anyone else. The same can be said of Françoise, the blonde, who re-enters the film and Jean-Louis’s life: she’s more than she appears.
In an interview with long-time associate Barbet Schroeder not long before he died , Rohmer identified two traits in his films which he hoped he’d mastered: an easy naturalism and a willingness to present the discussion of ideas. ‘My Night with Maud’ offers both in spades, although those familiar with Rohmer’s breezier but no less inquiring 1980s films might be a little surprised by the rigour and bookishness of this wintry, black-and-white work (the crisp photography of Clermont-Ferrand at Christmas is especially striking). Talk was never cheap in Rohmer’s films; here, some knowledge of Pascal’s Wager and various tenets of Catholicism wouldn’t go amiss if you’re to gain the most from the characters’ intense chats about religion and atheism, chance and determinism, love and desire. But, as ever, Rohmer gives us a playful slice of life which has the effortless air of reality and challenges us to think about life afresh.