Review of My Night at Maud’s (1969)
Seen in 2023.
Maud is a divorcée. The lover she had in her marriage died in a car crash. After an evening suddenly getting to know her through conversation, a Catholic engineer works up the courage to approach another woman he’s seen about town at Christmas.
A balanced package of bourgeois topics in polite conversation: Pascal, philosophy, theology, and adult life skills such as how to make tea and balance a code of conduct with your love life. It’s a fine example of the form with first-class acting, but following another 50+ years of brisk secularization in developed economies, there is little relevance in its specifics.
The main character, Jean-Louis, repeatedly poo-poos Jansenism, a theology named after another 17th-century thinker like Pascal. Vidal, another character, is not entirely serious, but the theology is, and it’s all so carefully scripted. That sincerity is a welcome change from mass-produced romances, yet the falsehood of the religion—including Pascal’s wager—makes the theology seem as foul as Maud’s furniture must get with all the smoking she and her friends do. Jean-Louis Trintignant, the actor who plays Jean-Louis, didn’t care about Catholicism when he made the film, and for good reason.
Fortunately, the human relationship stuff that was always at the core of this genre is complex and fresh. The acting helps it, in this case, but director Eric Rohmer’s authenticity about his setting is also important. He uses no score, only diegetic sound. This combines with the seriousness and intimacy of the conversations to make the film a world apart from the melodrama or the romantic comedy.
References here: Claire’s Knee (1970).