in Criterion Month

My Night At Maud’s (1969)

Look, I think every time we do one of these themed months, we should each be allowed to do one half-assed review. Sean already cashed his (quite amusingly), so since reviewing this movie isn’t exactly the most pressing thing on my mind on this particular night, I hope you’ll forgive the half-assery. Also, this seems like the most acceptable review to phone in, since I don’t think anyone else at Mildly Pleased had heard of this movie when I picked it during our Criterion draft. Hell, I didn’t know much about it, other than that Éric Rohmer was a name I’d heard, but didn’t know much about. And despite my rush to finish this movie, I wouldn’t mind familiarizing myself with more of Rohmer’s work.

As its title suggests, My Night At Maud’s does mostly center on one night. Or rather… a day, a night, another day, another night, and then a day many years later. In this brief period of time, we mainly focus on Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a somewhat solitary dude who considers himself to be a devout Catholic. We first see this in the opening scene, where he’s attending church and sees a striking blonde woman that he becomes momentarily fixated on. Later that night, he runs into his old pal Vidal, a self-described Marxist who also seems to be a bit of an intellectual adversary to Jean-Louis, despite their buddy-buddy relationship.

Jean-Louis and Vidal then go to meet a woman that Vidal knows, named Maud, and the two have a long, meandering (but also pointed) conversation. Much of which concerns Pascal (I don’t know if this movie is more enjoyable if you’re more aware of who Pascal is, but maybe) as well as how Jean-Louis’s devout Christianity informs his life outlook and choices. Vidal leaves, then Jean-Louis tries his damnedest to fight off Maud’s advances. Rather coyly, the movie cuts to the next morning, where Jean-Louis resumes his life, and then runs into the blonde woman from earlier, who he then strikes up a conversation with, which ultimately leads to a relationship between the two.

I’m not sure if it seemed like there was anything super compelling in that description of this movie, but that’s because a lot of My Night At Maud’s depth is in the conversations between these people. It is a bit odd to watch a movie this talk-y in subtitles, but then again, I suppose Ingmar Bergman’s films are pretty talk-y. And despite them being in another language, you can still see the strength of the writing just by reading the subtitles. Rohmer clearly seems to be a writer of similar talent, as the film feels a lot like a play, and yet the subtlety of the performances seem to be tailor-made for the film medium.

Supposedly this is part of Éric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales series, which consists of six movies, all centering on morality, I’m assuming. Again, I know I’ve already written a few paragraphs, so I’m not sure if this counts as half-assing, but that still doesn’t mean I’m gonna look into the other Moral Tales. The point is, a lot of the movie’s friction comes from Jean-Louis’ desires pushing up against his religious obligations. The way you feel that push and pull in his conversations with Maud and Vidal is surprisingly engrossing, and make My Night At Maud’s one more solid entry at the tail end of a very good decade for French cinema.