My Night at Maud's (Ma Nuit chez Maud) Reviews
where what is not said counts more than what is said. That said, this
film is an easy one to mis-watch. There is a lot of talk about
intellectual and theological topics, and it can seem as if the film is
about that. Not so, most of the film you can get from how the
characters carry themselves and how they interact; their words are
secondary. Besides that, the talk is meant to be partly funny and
partly serious; some of the intellectual talk is relevant to the theme,
and some of it is intentionally pretentious. Indeed, the main themes of
the film are pretension and predestination. (Which is interesting since
even though the film is set back in the 1960s, French "designed"
milieu feels as if it were modern and fresh and free.) Overall, the
final product has a very nice, witty, and young feel to it. I rate this
one up on account of some good characterizations, and the fact that the
actress playing Maud is damn sexy with French charm -- well, that
factors right in.
-->Possible moral topic(s) treated: The substitution of principles dictated by moral codes with irrational impulses that contradict them.
Note: Although this gem was planned as the third moral tale, it was released after the fourth moral tale La Collectionneuse (1967) due to delay in production.
In short, My Night at Maud's is a tremendous cinema masterpiece in all imaginable aspects.
Jesus, how do I begin punching this damn keyboard?
Ok, first. Rohmer's elements! Yeah, his elements.
A) Rohmer was known at this point for utilizing a literary narrative, in which a protagonistic voiceover narration would reveal what wasn't told or shown explicitly to the viewer. In the most purist tradition of voiceover narration, such is the main and only purpose of it: to speak what resides in the mind or is sufficiently unclear. In this case, Rohmer uses such technique just once, and only in the final minutes. I'll say why later.
Another element of his is that he constructs morally ambiguous situations that compromise the integrity of his characters, and that is precisely what identifies Rohmer more clearly from the rest of the Nouvelle Vague directors. Such feat reaches a grand state of maturity with this third moral tale, which would be marginally perfected by the even more challenging and superior masterpiece Claire's Knee (1970), the magnificent fifth moral tale.
In all cases so far, such element/situation/person/event representing that challenge to the moral of the personages is a woman, and the perpetrator of the immorality is a man, whereas the vehicle is said woman, or another person of indistinct genre. That's Maud.
Another element is the resulting love triangle. In this case, however, we have two. The opposite vertices are Maud and Françoise, respectively, whereas the opposite tips of the bases are Jean-Louis and his friend Vidal, who are both related to both women. However, these triangles interact independently, as we never see the four of them together, just like this:
J-L /____\ Vidal
B) Now, Rohmer's newly developed skill to direct professional actors.
Nearing the ending of Ophüls' masterwork, Liebelei (1933), we receive a shocking revelation. Its magic comes from the magic of acting. Acting is not only the art of speaking or making gestures, but the art of reacting as well. Not too many examples abound in the annals of cinema, but from the revelation of Liebelei, to the final confession of Paris, Texas (1984) and key moments in Magnolia (1999), the camera freezes in the face of one character, uninterruptedly, to see him react to the words we are only hearing. He/she speaks, then listens and reacts, then speaks and makes gestures, in an all-embracing process of communication and feedback. THAT'S ACTING, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! Then, it is the turn of the other personage. This is the best way I have encountered to dissect characters in cinema.
C) And boy, does this film dissects them all layer by layer, like complex onions. This film experience becomes much more meaningful if you have a doctorate at listening to people. I love listening to people. My mother speaks to me around 95-135 minutes, non-stop (no exaggeration in the time calculation), without me saying a single word. It is worth it. Giving people a chance to speak is the foundation of socialization and human empathy.
In this regard, the screenplay feels extremely realistic from a psychological point of view. You witness fully complex people revealing their principles and moral codes that drive their lives. Once that that has been established for the first hour, however, Rohmer uses the next 50 minutes to challenge those principles and preconceived notions, and shatters them to test their true strength. What had become an extraordinarily discussed collision of Pascalian principles, correctly stated laws of stakes, statistical hypotheses testing and probability calculations (which is my current University degree specialty), epistemological questionings on Catholic principles and the validity of the scientific method discussing economic principles of theoretical human rationality, suddenly becomes a complex and engaging drama!!
How in the f%/&$!!!!
Like Alice, falling down the rabbit hole, we fall every single second deeper and deeper into an unprecedented understanding of these four human souls, with their contradictions (they do contradict themselves at some points, like we all do in life sometimes), correct claims and hypotheses, feeling human emotions. Again, all of this would be perfected in Claire's Knee, when Rohmer achieves his maximum state of brilliance making even the physical landscapes to reflect the anxieties and ideas of the characters, correlating perfectly.
Seriously, I love this kind of cinema!
Characteristic of Rohmer, this film is about tension--sexual, moral, or even both--and that tension is established well, not only between the film's characters, but also tension against your own moral codes. This film aims to make you think, and that it achieves.