For Reel

My Night at Maud’s (1969)
December 31, 2015, 1:03 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Eric Rohmer
5 Stars
My Night at Maud'sThe brunette divorcée (Françoise Fabian) that gives this masterpiece its title serves as a catalyst, what Kent Jones rightly identified as an “agent of transformation.” Perhaps it is paradoxical that a seemingly crucial night in the life of a devout Catholic (Jean-Louis Trintignant) didn’t do much to dispel his long-held romantic notions–at the end of the film, as in the beginning, he pursues an elusive blonde (Marie-Christine Barrault) whom he knows little about. If anything, it could be argued that Maud’s influence is what brings Jean-Louis to finalize this consistency of desire, driven by her assertion that she prefers men who, “know what they want.” And yet, what exactly transpires over the course of this night, and what precisely changes within Jean-Louis? Eric Rohmer is indirect with these answers, but is fascinated in opening up the possibilities for Jean-Louis–that is, his decision ultimately takes on greater weight considering the question of “what could have been.” The film, as in Pascal’s wager, hinges on the dynamic that sets a safe compromise against an elusive reward, only it is not clear which side Jean-Louis’ decision really serves. My Night at Maud’s is Rohmer’s first masterpiece and one of the great films of its decade, it possessing a sort of magic in the way that it not only indulges intelligent, well-argued conversation, but suggests how conversations themselves function in decision-making and developing a worldview. Rohmer uses long takes during the central setpiece, involving very little editing between the two characters so that the actors get to emote not only during what they have said or what they are reacting to, but rather play out a grand drama over the course of minutes. If Rohmer’s films are about talking, My Night at Maud’s is perhaps the purest example.