My Night at Maud's (Ma nuit chez Maud) [DVD]
Director : Eric Rohmer
Screenplay : Eric Rohmer
MPAA Rating : PG
Year of Release : 1969
Stars : Jean-Louis Trintignant (Jean-Louis), Françoise Fabian (Maud), Marie-Christine Barrault (Françoise), Antoine Vitez (Vidal), Léonide Kogan (Concert Violinist), Guy Léger (Preacher), Anne Dubot (Blonde Friend), Marie Becker (Marie, Maud’s Daughter)
The protagonist in My Night at Maud’s (Ma nuit chez Maud), the third of Eric Rohmer’s six “Moral Tales,” is never given a name. And, while the use of the first-person possessive “My” in the title suggests that we are meant to view the story through his eyes, Rohmer keeps us distanced from the character in several ways.
Unlike his first two “Moral Tales,” The Bakery Girl of Monceau (1962) and Suzanne’s Career (1963), both of which were short films, there is very little voice-over narration in My Night at Maud’s. However, when it is used, it is at crucial moments. It is first used early in the story after the protagonist spies a pretty young woman at Mass and declares that he will marry her. It is not used again until the end of the story, when he has married her and, after an unexpected encounter with another woman, realizes that their paths have crossed more than he ever knew. This restrained use of voice-over is an improvement over some of Rohmer’s earlier films, which tended to use it as a crutch. Here, Rohmer relies heavily on dialogue and context to supply information, which makes for a compelling and rewarding viewing experience for those willing to risk the tedium of a film in which all the action is talking.
The protagonist is played by Jean-Louis Trintignant, who was already an accomplished actor with dozens of credits since the mid-1950s (Rohmer was so intent on casting Trintignant that he waited three years for him to be available for winter shooting, which meant that, although My Night at Maud’s is the third of the six “Moral Tales,” it was actually made after 1967’s La Collectionneuse, the fourth tale). Trintignant’s character considers himself both an intellectual and a devout man, although he falls humanly short on both accounts. As each protagonist in the “Moral Tales” attempts to follow a particular code of behavior, Trintignant’s character orders his life through Catholicism, which imposes rigid standards of morality and action that were hardly in step with the liberated sexuality of 1960s France.
The protagonist’s view of life is put into conflict with the views of two other characters: Vidal (Antoine Vitez), an old school friend who has since become a Marxist (and therefore an atheist) and Maud (Françoise Fabian), a sultry divorcee who becomes the protagonist’s greatest temptation both physically and spiritually. The centerpiece of the film is a long sequence in which the protagonist and Vidal go to Maud’s apartment for dinner. Dinner conversation revolves around religion, Marxism, and the meaning of philosopher/mathematician’s Blaise Pascal’s theories about wagering and expected values. It is easy to see, at this point, why self-styled intellectuals of the ’60s embraced the film so thoroughly (it stroked their egos and gave them something to argue about after the screening) and why cynics rolled their eyes at it (it does tend to wear its intellectualism a little too handily on its sleeve, throwing around terms like “Jansenism” and assuming that its viewers are familiar with Pascal’s theories).
Through a confluence of events, the protagonist ends up spending the night at Maud’s apartment, which presents an obvious temptation to stray from his moral code (an earlier discussion established that he does not believe in one-night stands because he doesn’t see the point). Maud represents the kind of open sexuality and thought unencumbered by moral codes that are the antithesis of the protagonist’s worldview. Nevertheless, he feels himself drawn to her on multiple levels even as he sets his sights on Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault), the pretty blonde student he first saw at Mass. Françoise is the “appropriate” woman for him, whereas Maud remains a temptation.
Here we can see how Rohmer works Pascal’s thoughts on wagering into his narrative, with Françoise being the “safe bet” while Maud is a risk, but one with potentially greater rewards. Yet, even that reading doesn’t quit do the characters justice because both carry their own risks. Françoise may be the protagonist’s “type,” but she is a melancholy character who is haunted by a past indiscretion. Maud, on the other hand, doesn’t have the will to be haunted by indiscretions and is fiery in her desire for a man who “knows what he wants.” But, she is also a deeply sad character who was unable to maintain a relationship with a good man (and, as we see at the end, continues to have relationship troubles).
In the late 1960s when My Night at Maud’s was first released to great acclaim and popularity in both Europe and the U.S., it was most certainly chic to view Maud as the most rational and admirable character. With her long dark hair, smoldering eyes, and attractive self-assurance and comfort in her own skin (she proudly declares to the two men that she sleeps naked), Maud is the poster-girl of liberated femininity. On the other hand, the protagonist’s hang-ups and Catholic devotions were so 1950s--the very definition of “repressed.” Yet, it is hard not to identify with and admire his struggles, whether one agrees with his Christian sensibilities or not. He is articulate in defending his beliefs and does so out of a genuine sense of self-betterment, not just to follow a code for its own sake.
Like Rohmer’s other films, My Night at Maud’s is aesthetically simple, favoring long takes and medium shots and eschewing the increasingly chaotic visual styles that were beginning to define cinema in the late 1960s. Rohmer is obsessed with realism, and his films are as unadorned as they are intriguing. His dialogue is written with precision, giving us a window into each character, albeit one that obscures as much as it displays. One of the reasons films like My Night at Maud’s continue to entrance so many years later is because they simultaneously enlighten and question the human predicaments their characters face. Rohmer’s cinema, especially My Night at Maud’s, which is probably his most well-known “Moral Tale,” is a cinema of small, human revelations that are recognizable and therefore meaningful to anyone who has ever struggled with how to live.
|My Night at Maud’s Criterion Collection DVD|
|My Night at Maud’s is available exclusively as part of the Criterion Collection’s six-disc box set “Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales,” which also includes The Bakery Girl of Monceau , Suzanne’s Career, La Collectionneuse, Claire’s Knee, and Love in the Afternoon. In addition to supplements on each disc, the box set includes a paperback of the original stories by Eric Rohmer, as well as an insert booklet featuring Rohmer’s landmark essay “For a Talking Cinema,” excerpts from cinematographer Nestor Almendros’s autobiography, and new essays by Geoff Andrew, Ginette Vincendeau, Phillip Lopate, Kent Jones, Molly Haskell, and Armond White.|
|Audio||French Dolby Digital 1.0 Monaural|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|SRP||$99.95 (box set)|
|Release Date||August 15, 2006|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The new high-definition transfer of My Night at Maud’s, which was taken from a 35mm fine-grain master positive and approved by Eric Rohmer, is superb. Far exceeding the previously available Fox/Lorber disc, the image is sharp, detailed, and pleasantly filmlike. The MTI Digital Restoration System has removed all hints of dirt or age, leaving a virtually flawless image. Like all the films in this box set, My Night at Maud’sis windowboxed. The digitally restored monaural soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from the optical soundtrack and sounds excellent, as well.|
|This disc includes two main supplements, both from French television. First, there is “On Pascal,” a 1965 episode of the half-hour educational TV series En profil dans le texte, which was directed by Eric Rohmer (he directed several episodes of this series over the years). Also included is a 1974 episode of the French TV program Télécinéma, which obviously followed a screening of the film. The program’s rather awkward host interviews star Jean-Louis Trintignant, producer Pierre Cottrell, and film critic Jean Douchet about working with Rohmer and the meaning of his “Moral Tales.” The disc also includes an original theatrical trailer.|
Copyright ©2006 James Kendrick
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