My Night at Maud’s (1969)

“Absolutely. For a Communist, Pascal’s wager is very relevant today. Personally, I very much doubt that history has any meaning. Yet I wager that it has, so I’m in a Pascalian situation. Hypothesis A: Society and politics are meaningless. Hypothesis B: History has meaning. I’m not at all sure B is more likely to be true than A. More likely the reverse. Let’s even suppose B has a 10% chance of being true and A has 80%. Nevertheless I have no choice but to opt for B, because only the hypothesis that history has meaning allows me to go on living. Suppose I bet on A, and B was true, despite the lesser odds. I’d have thrown away my life. So I must choose B to justify my life and actions. There’s an 80% chance I’m wrong but that doesn’t matter.”

‘My Night at Maud’s’, directed by Éric Rohmer in 1969, is a French drama that charts an evening in the life of Jean-Louis, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant. A staunch Catholic who struggles with fidelity, he meets an old friend called Vidal, played by Antoine Vitez, in Clermont-Ferrand. Vidal introduces him to Maud, a liberal but unsettled woman played by Françoise Fabian. Jean-Louis then spends the night talking with Maud about religion, morality and sex before succumbing to his desire for her. After they have spent the night together, Jean-Louis meets another woman who he has prophetically decided he will marry and Maud is abandoned in her favour. As with Rohmer’s later quartet of films based around seasons (‘A Tale of Springtime’, ‘A Tale of Winter’, ‘A Tale of Summer’ and ‘Autumn Tale’), this movie is the fourth film of a cycle based on different aspects of morality. It’s a chilly, raw film that has a feeling of authenticity. Set over the Christmas period, the surrounding ice and snow mirror the distanced philosophising of the characters who talk at length about love and sex without achieving any depth. This is not a criticism however, one skill Rohmer has is the ability to demythologise romantic concepts and present them, paradoxically, as intellectual games but also as something approaching reality. The characters in ‘My Night at Maud’s’ never feel like they are changed or moved by what is happening, but as with the similar characterisation in ‘Last Year at Marienbad’, this remoteness is a key part in the success of the film.

Would I recommend it? It’s like a short, chilly punch in the stomach with an engrossing script that says something profound about romance amongst people who think too much. Watch in a double bill either with ‘Last Year at Marienbad’, or one of Richard Linklater’s ‘Before’ movies.

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