Eric Rohmer's gentle and touching film My Night at Maud's is one of his most important and poignant works that underly such themes as faith, marriage, infidelity, philosophy, religion, literature, love, fate, and sex. Like Francois Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette, Eric Rohmer was a critic to the magazine ‘Cahiers du cinema’and helped innovate the movement of The French New Wave. The French New Wave movement was a certain European art form during the late 50s and 60s. The French New Wave was a movement led by a group of young filmmakers that included Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut, Alain Resnais, Claude Chabrol, Eric Rohmer and Jacques Rivette who were connected to the magazine 'Cahiers du cinema'. The idea of The French New Wave film was that it should seem personal and freewheeling, where the directors often chose to shoot on location, using natural lighting and often using hand-held cameras which added to the experimental feel of the films. Key themes explored in the French New Wave include breaking the distinguishing boundaries of realism, and the idea of exploring the relationships between men and women. Similar to the works of Stanley Kubrick, John Ford, Ingmar Bergman, Orson Welles and Yasjuro Ozu, Eric Rohmer had a unique style that stood out from any other filmmakers. He always preferred the philosophical discussions of feelings, thoughts and ideas between man and woman rather than depicting actions. It's hard to describe a Rohmer film because his stories can't be really looked at as just a comedy, romance, drama, or psychological study of relationships; but all of them put together. My Night at Maud's was Rohmer's most acclaimed film when released which also inspired the writings of philosopher Blaise Pascal. It tells the story of a Catholic engineer's faith with God and how he must remain true to his beliefs, ethics and character when he is tested sleeping next to a naked divorcee. And yet it seems his character is less testing his faith, ethics and character and more testing the self-image that he is trying to project to himself and other's which might or might not be who he truly is. They're several engaging conversations within the film with him and his friend Vital, the wise and beautiful Maud and also the mysterious blonde stranger who he proclaimed his love for and yet has not even met. My Night at Maud's is part of Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales which are six different stories that he first written in book form before he turned to directing. These six stories usually focused on character's who arrive at moral decisions within their life and I believe his films portray more thoughtful and philosophical ideas on sex, body language and the differences between men and women than most movies put together.
A strongly religious Catholic man named Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who just returned from a trip to South America named and have now moved into a small town named Ceyrat in rural France. Jean-Louis leaves his house one Sunday morning and heads to church to attend mass. Jean-Louis looks at an attractive blonde woman during the mass reading and after the service Jean-Louis gets into his car and follows the blonde woman on her moped but loses her when caught behind another vehicle.
After a night of working on math equations Jean-Louis heads to work at a Michelin plant in Clermont-Ferrand. During the lunch break Jean-Louis mentions that he lives in Ceyrat and one of his co-workers remarks on the distance he is from work. Jean-Louis narrates while he again spots the blonde woman on her moped on the city streets. "That monday December 21st, I suddenly knew, without a doubt, that Francoise would be my wife." He heads to a book store and reads a passage from a book by Pascal's Pensees. It reads, "they began as though they did believe with holy water and masses, etc. You too may follow that way to unthinking belief. That's what I fear. -Why? What have you got to lose? It's the way to diminish the passions, which are your stumbling blocks."
While in Clermont Jean-Louis stops at a bar and runs into an old college friend named Vidal who is a professor at the university there in Clermont-Ferrand. They sit down and have a chat and Vital invites him to attend the Leonide Kogan's recital that evening because he has extra tickets. Vital says, "all Clermont girls will be there. Los of pretty girls. I'm sure you'll knock em dead." Jean-Louis says, "I've never knocked anyone dead." He decides to go along with Vidal just to just prove him wrong. They both realize that they never been in this bar beforeand Vital says, "and yet our paths cross right here. How strange."
"On the contrary. Our ordinary paths never cross. Therefore, the point of intersection must be outside those ordinary paths. I've been dabbling in mathematics in my spare time. It'd be fun to calculate our chances of meeting in a two-month period. It 's a matter of data and how you handle it. Provided the date exists. Obviously, if I don't know where a person lives or works, I can't work out the odds of running into them. Are you interested in mathematics.?"
"It's increasingly important for a philosopher. In linguistics, for example. But even basic things. Pascal's arithmetical triangle is connected to his wager. That's what makes Pascal so amazingly modern. Mathematician and philosopher are one."
"Good old Pascal. Funny you mention him. I'm just now rereading him. I'm very dissapointed. I feel I know him almost by heart, yet he tells me nothing. It all seems so empty. I'm a Catholic, or at least I try to be, but he doesn't fit in with my notion of Catholicism. It's precisely because I'm a Christian that his austerity offends me. If that's what Christianity is about, then I'm an atheist. Are you still a Marxist?"
"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. Hypotheses 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 percent chance of being true, and A has an 80 percent chance. 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 percent chance I'm wrong, but that doesn't matter."
"Mathematical hope. Potential gain divided by probability. Though with the hypothesis B though the probability is slight, the possible gain is infinite. In your case, a meaning to life. In Pascal's, eternal salvation."
"It was Gorky, Lenin or maybe Mayakovsky who said about the Russian revolution that the situation forced them to choose the one chance in a thousand. Because hope became infinitely greater if you took that chance than if you didn't take it."
Jean-Louis attends the Leonide Kogan's recital with Vidal. After the show Jean-Louis invites Vital to mass and his friend accepts because even though he had plans with a friend, she may be involved in family problems. After mass Vital invites him to see his friend whose name is Maud a mother who since recently divorced has been secluded from people. "Shes...very beautiful," Vital tells Jean-Louis. Vital and Maud have talked about marriage in the past but don't get along on a day by day basis and are better just being friends. Vital tells Jean-Louis that he wants him to come along to see her because Vital knows otherwise her and him will make love just to pass the time.
The two head over to Maud's apartment and when Jean-Louis is introduced to her she asks Jean-Paul how he knows Vital. He tells her how they used to be college friends and that he hasn't seen Vital in 15 years because the two of them lead different lives. He then tells Maud that he has been abroad in cities of Vancouver and Valparaiso for the last several months. Maud says she is planning on leaving Clermont, not because of the town but because of the people. Vidal asks Maud how her Christmas was and she tells him that her daughter loved all her gifts. When Vidal tells Maud he spent it going to midnight mass she says, "I knew it. You'll end up a priest." But he tells her that Jean-Louis dragged him there.
Maud asks Jean-Louis if he is a devout Catholic and when he says he is teases him and asks if he was a boy scout and when he says he wasn't Vidal says he was a choir boy. Maud says, "you both stink of holy water. What about a drink?"Jean-Louis turns it down with Vidal asking for scotch and she says how she was never bapitized.
Vidal tells Jean-Paul that Maud comes from a family of free thinkers saying, "Maud, your sort of irreligion is another form of religion." She says she has a right to be. She says to Vidal, "Had my family been Catholic I might have lapsed, like you, whereas I'm faithful." Vidal says that it's easy to be faithful to nothing and she tells him it's not nothing but another way of looking at problems saying, "It has its principles sometimes very strict ones, but its free of preconceived notions."
They all sit at the table and Vidal tells Maude, "I understand being an atheist. I'm one myself. But Christianity's inherent contradictions are fascinating." He points at Jean-Louis saying, "He hates Pascal, because Pascal lashes out at phoney Christians like him. He's the quintessential Jesuit." Jean-Louis defends himself by saying, "I don't like Pascal because he has a very particular conception of Christianity., condemned by the church by the way. I think there's another way to look at Christianity. As a scientist, I respect Pascal, but his condemnation of science shocks me."
They ask about marriage and Jean-Louis brings up about a pretty blonde girl he noticed during mass and the two start laughing at him. Maud's young daughter Marie gets out of bed and walks out wanting to see the lights on the Christmas tree light up. Maude does turns them on for her and takes her back to bed. JWhen she comes back Jean-Louis, Maud and Vidal discuss marriage and Vidal tells Maud that Jean-Louis was once quite a ladies man. Vidal brings up the names of women that Jean-Louis had when they were younger which somewhat bothers Jean-Louis. Jean-Louis says, "I've had affairs with girls I loved and thought of marrying, but I've never just slept with a girl. It's not a moral stance. I just don't see the point of it." Vidal says, "yes, but let's suppose that on your travels you met a lovely girl whom you knew you'd never see again. There are circumstances in which it's difficult to resist." Jean-Louis says, "I won't say God, but fate has kept me from such circumstances."
Vidal openly admits to having several affairs with different women because they are free of clinging and relationships. Jean-Louis is getting slightly annoyed by all these questions of his past and of the women he was involved with. Vidal slightly drunk then asks Jean-Louis, "but if tomorrow, or tonight, a woman as lovely as Maud, an amorous woman, suggested or made it clear..." Jean-Louis interrupts what he knows Vidal is going to say and tells Maud that Vidal is drunk. Maud sits down next to Jean-Louis and says, "lets hear your answer anyways." Jean-Louis pauses for a minute and then looks at Maud and tells her, "in the past, yes. Now, no."
Vidal asks him why and Jean-Louis says he's now converted and that being converted can happen to a person whether they would want to believe it or not. Jean-Louis is thinking about leaving for the evening but Maud wants them to both stay longer and she goes to slip into something more comfortable. Vidal tells his friend that he can't leave him alone with Maud because it's all part of Maud's game.
Maud comes back out with just a tee-shirt on with Vidal saying she just wanted to show off her legs. She gets into the bed (which is in the front room) and gets in under the covers. She then asks what they were talking about before and Vidal says they were discussing Jean-Louis' girls. Maud looks at Jean-Louis and says that he shocks her because a true Christian is supposed to stay chaste before marriage. Jean-Louis says, "I don't pretend to be a good example. My Christianity and my love affairs are different, even conflicting matters. This may come as another shock but pursuing girls does not estrange one from God any more than pursuing mathematics, for example. Mathematics turns you away from God. it's a useless, intellectual diversion...worse than other diversions. Because it's completely abstract and thus inhuman."
It starts to snow heavily and Maude is afraid because he lives so far away that Jean-Louis will get in an accident driving in the snow and invites him to spend the night and sleep in the guest room. Vidal has to get home though because he realizes he left the window open at home and encourages Jean-Louis to spend the night.
After Vidal leaves Jean-Louis and Maud are now alone together and he suggests he should go too and not keep Maud up. Maud says she wants him to stay and when he keeps suggesting it might be better if he left she finally tells him that we can go; with him then deciding to stay for just a little bit longer. Maud again says that Jean-Louis shocks her saying, "religion has always left me cold. I'm neither for nor against it. But people like you prevent me from ever taking it seriously. All you're really worried about is your respectability. Staying in a woman's room after midnight...that's just terrible. The fact your staying might comfort me when I'm feeling a bit lonely, the fact we might go beyond convention and make real contact...none of this would ever occur to you. I find that stupid and not very Christian."
Jean-Louis says that it has nothing to do with religion and that he thought she might be tired. Maud says, "what bothers me about you is that you dodge the issue. You refuse to assume responsibility. Your both a shamefaced Christian and a shamefaced Don Juan." Maud questions Jean-Louis on his friendship with Vidal and she says that he'll be brooding up all night thinking about the two of them alone together. When Jean-Louis says that Vidal insisted on leaving Maud says to him, "pure bravado. You can be a bit dim sometimes, can't you? Didn't he tell you he was in love with me?"
Jean-Louis tells her that all Vidal said was that he was friends with her and admired her. Maud believes that Vidal brought Jean-Louis there to test her and when she decides to change the subject; Jean-Louis sits down on her bed next to her getting more comfortable.
Maud then questions him on of this mysterious blonde woman that Vidal was alluding to earlier and also questions him on marriage and infadelity. She then asks Jean-Louis about this blonde woman saying, "So if you found her today, you'd marry her on the spot and swear eternal fidelity." He says, "absolutely."
When Maude questions if she would be unfaithful he says that if she loved him she wouldn't be. Maud says, "love isn't eternal" but Jean-Louis believes his sort of love is. Jean-Louis doesn't believe in divorce and when he asks Maud why she divorced her ex-husband she says, "I don't know. Well, actually I do. We just didn't get along. I had a lover and my husband had a mistress. Curiously enough, she was your type: very upstanding, very Catholic. Even so I hated her like poison."
She then talks about her lover who was a doctor and who she thought was the man of her life. He had such a passion for life but was killed in a car crash from skidding on the ice. There is a slight dead silence and Jean-Louis eventually asks her where that spare room is and Maud says that there is none. When he asks her if there's no other room Maud says, "Sure there is. My office, my waiting room, my daughter's room, the maid's room. The maid is Spanish and very prim." Vidal knew this and is why he quickly left.
Jean-Louis starts to get nervous and Maud tells him to not be so childish and to sleep next to her on the spread, or under it if she's not too repulsive. When he suggests the armchair Maud asks if he is afraid of her or himself. "I swear I won't touch you," Maud says. "Besides, I thought you had self-control." Maud undresses under the covers while Jean-Louis takes a blanket and sits on the arm-chair. The two of them stare at each other in complete silence as Maud playfully whispers to him from the bed, "idiot." Jean-Louis eventually gets up and walks over and lays next to her on the bed. Maud then turns out the light and the two of them go to sleep.
Early the next morning Maud rolls over to Jean-Louis and holds him as the two start to kiss. Jean-Louis quickly pulls away and when he realizes he angered Maud he tries to grab her when she tries to leave the room. She pulls away saying, "no. I prefer people who know what they want." She then goes into her daughter's room and shuts the door. Jean-Louis is about to leave and Maud comes back out of the room saying, "leaving without saying good-bye?" Before he leaves she asks him if he would come along with her, Vidal and Vidal's girlfriend at noon to go hiking and that maybe he will meet his blonde.
Jean-Louis agrees to go and later that morning he spots the blonde Francoise once again on her moeped. He finally catches up to her and says, "I know I should have some line but they always sound so stupid. How can I get a chance to know you?" Francoise tells him that he doesn't seem like the type to leave things up to chance, and when he asks her for lunch the next day Francoise tells him that she will see.
Like he promised Jean-Louis spends the afternoon with Maud, Vidal and Vidal's girlfriend. Maud and Jean-Louis spend time alone and she is glad he came along because she would have felt like a third wheel with the other two. Maud and Jean-Louis kiss but he tells her it's a friendly kiss. "I feel so good with you" he tells her but Maud says he'd feel better with the blonde that he wants. Maud can't believe how Vidal tried to trap Jean-Louis to sleep with her the other night but tells Jean-Louis that she is glad he chose not to sleep with her so he can keep his conscious clear.
Jean-Louise asks Maud what she'd say if he asked her to marry him. She tells him that she wouldn't meet the requirements which are blonde and Catholic. He tells her, that they haven't even spent a full 24 hours together, and yet he feels he has known her for ages. Jean-Louis and Maud spend the evening shopping and Jean-Louis heads to her house afterwards and they cook dinner with Maud telling him how she is finally going to be moving because her ex husband just called to tell her he got her a job in another city.
After dinner Maud tells Jean-Louis how his lack of spontaneity bothers her. Maud says, "I don't much care for this business of love with conditions attached. Your way of calculating, planning ahead, classifying. 'Above all, my wife must be Catholic. Love will follow in due course.'"
Jean-Louis smiles but realizes he has to leave but promises to call her sometime. When leaving Maud's home he catches the Francoise on her moped again and he stops the car and offers to give her a ride home because of the cold. During the drive he learns that Francoise is a university student and that she wants to become a teacher. When he pulls into her home his car gets stuck but Francoise offers him to spend the night at her home and they can get help geet his car out tomorrow.
When inside Francoise brews coffee as Jean-Louis says how lucky he was to approach her on the street and not get cold feet about it. They both discuss fate and predestination and where Jean-Louis believes in it Francoise does not; where she believes everyone is free to choose at every moment of their lives, even if Gods aids them.
Jean-Louis tells Francoise the choices he makes in his life are easy saying, "it seems to be for my moral good. For instance, a girl I loved didn't love me, and she married another. in the end it was good she married him and not me. I mean good for me, because I didn't really love her. He left his wife and children for her. I had no wife or children to leave. But she knew that if I'd had a family, I wouldn't have left them. So my misfortune was really a stroke of luck." Francoise says, "because you have principles that took precedence over love. She knew that for you the choice was already made."
It starts to get late and Francoise shows him the spare room. In the spare room Jean-Louis finds a book that is titled, 'true and false of Atheism debated'. The next morning Francoise wakes him up and the two decide to go to church since it's Sunday. Jean-Louis tells Francoise before leaving how cheerful she seems and he says, "I feel very comfortable with you." Francoise turns away when he tries to kiss her and Jean-Louis tells her how he loves her. Francoise says not to say that but he tells her he's never wrong with people.
When on the street together that evening they run into Vidal who seems to know Francoise. Vidal then tells Jean-Louis that Maud is leaving tomorrow. After Vidal leaves Jean-Louis asks Francoise how she knows Vidal and she says it's because he's on the philosophy faculty. Jean-Louis says that she doesn't take philosophy but she says it's also a small town. "What have you got against him?" he asks her. She says nothing and that they hardly no each other at all. When Jean-Louis and Francoise are out in the snow embracing each other Jean-Louis says to her, "I feel like I've always known you, that you've always been a part of my life." Francoise seems bothered and pulls away and when asked what's wrong she tells Jean-Louis that she recently had a lover. He asks who it is and she says, "you don't know him. Don't worry it's not Vidal."
When he questions her on it Francoise says it's more complicated than that because he is married. Francoise said she used to love him but no longer does and now has feelings for Jean-Louis. Jean-Louis tells her they can take as much time as they like saying, "But if you think I love or respect you any less now, you're wrong. First, because I have no right to judge. And...also because I must say...I'm glad. It's true. I felt a bit conscience-stricken myself. I've had affairs, some of them long-lasting. This way were even. I have another confession: The very morning we met, I'd just left a girl's place. I'd slept with her." Francoise says, "lets never bring up the subject again."
At the end of the film five years pass and Jean-Louis and Francoise are now married with a young child and are all on a trip together by the shore of the ocean. Jean-Louis suddenly runs into Maud and Maud tells him he hasn't changed one bit. When Jean-Louis tells Maud he's now married with a child he introduces Francoise to her. Maud asks him why he didn't announce the marriage with him saying he didn't know her address. She then says that he could have called before she left and when he says he tried she says, "no use lying. I have an excellent memory. You deserted me shamelessly. Anyway, you must have had your reasons."
After Francoise walks away with their child, Maud says, "So...it was her. How strange. I should have guessed." Jean-Louis says that he never mentioned Francoise to her and Maud says, "not much, you didn't! Your fiancée, the blonde Catholic. I have a good memory." He tells her he didn't even know Francoise at that time. Maud tells Jean-Louis that she got married again but it's not going well saying, "I don't know how I manage to have so little luck with men. It's nice to see you again. Even if it was to find out...enough. I'm boring you with all this."
The two say their final goodbyes and go on their separate ways. Jean-Louis meets up with Francoise and his son by the shore and says to Francoise that he didn't know her and Maud knew each other. He was about to go on when he finally realized the whole truth and that Francoise didn't fear what she might learn about him, but something he might have discovered about her. He then lies and says, "yes, she was my last fling. Strange running into her then all people, isn't it?" Francoise tells her husband that was a long time ago and that they promised to never bring it up again and they all three decide to go for a swim.
FRENCH NEW WAVE
The New Wave was a blanket term coined by critics for a group of French filmmakers of the late 1950s and 1960s.
Although never a formally organized movement, the New Wave filmmakers were linked by their self-conscious rejection of the literary period pieces being made in France and written by novelists, their spirit of youthful iconoclasm, the desire to shoot more current social issues on location, and their intention of experimenting with the film form. "New Wave" is an example of European art cinema. Many also engaged in their work with the social and political upheavals of the era, making their radical experiments with editing, visual style and narrative part of a general break with the conservative paradigm.
Using light-weight portable equipment, hand-held cameras and requiring little or no set up time, the New Wave way of film-making presented a documentary style. The films exhibited direct sounds on film stock that required less light. Filming techniques included fragmented, freeze-frames, discontinuous editing, and long takes. The combination of objective realism, subjective realism, and authorial commentary created a narrative ambiguity in the sense that questions that arise in a film are not answered in the end.
Alexandre Astruc's manifesto, "The Birth of a New Avant-Garde: The Camera-Stylo", published in L`Ecran, on 30 March 1948 outlined some of the ideas that were later expanded upon by François Truffaut and the Cahiers du cinéma. It argues that "cinema was in the process of becoming a new mean of expression on the same level as painting and the novel: a form in which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel. This is why I would like to call this new age of cinema the age of the 'camera-stylo."
Some of the most prominent pioneers among the group, including François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Éric Rohmer, Claude Chabrol, and Jacques Rivette, began as critics for the famous film magazine Cahiers du cinéma. Cahiers co-founder and theorist André Bazin was a prominent source of influence for the movement. By means of criticism and editorialization, they laid the groundwork for a set of concepts, revolutionary at the time, which the American film critic Andrew Sarris called the 'auteur theory.'
Cahiers du cinéma writers critiqued the classic "Tradition of Quality" style of French Cinema. Bazin and Henri Langlois, founder and curator of the Cinémathèque Française, were the dual godfather figures of the movement. These men of cinema valued the expression of the director's personal vision in both the film's style and script.
The 'auteur theory' holds that the director is the "author" of his movies, with a personal signature visible from film to film. They praised movies by Jean Renoir and Jean Vigo, and made then-radical cases for the artistic distinction and greatness of Hollywood studio directors such as Orson Welles, John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock and Nicholas Ray. The beginning of the New Wave was to some extent an exercise by the Cahiers writers in applying this philosophy to the world by directing movies themselves.
Truffaut, with The 400 Blows (1959) and Godard, with Breathless (1960) had unexpected international successes, both critical and financial, that turned the world's attention to the activities of the New Wave and enabled the movement to flourish. Part of their technique was to portray characters not readily labeled as protagonists in the classic sense of audience identification.
The auteurs of this era owe their popularity to the support they received with their youthful audience. Most of these directors were born in the 1930s and grew up in Paris, relating to how their viewers might be experiencing life. They were considered the first film generation to have a "film education", knowledge of and references to film history. With high concentration in fashion, urban professional life, and all-night parties, the life of France's youth was being exquisitely captured.
The French New Wave was popular roughly between 1958 and 1964, although New Wave work existed as late as 1973. The socio-economic forces at play shortly after World War II strongly influenced the movement. Politically and financially drained, France tended to fall back on the old popular pre-war traditions. One such tradition was straight narrative cinema, specifically classical French film.
The movement has its roots in rebellion against the reliance on past forms (often adapted from traditional novelistic structures), criticizing in particular the way these forms could force the audience to submit to a dictatorial plot-line. They were especially against the French "cinema of quality", the type of high-minded, literary period films held in esteem at French film festivals, often regarded as 'untouchable' by criticism.
New Wave critics and directors studied the work of western classics and applied new avant garde stylistic direction. The low-budget approach helped filmmakers get at the essential art form and find what was, to them, a much more comfortable and contemporary form of production. Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Howard Hawks, John Ford, and many other forward-thinking film directors were held up in admiration while standard Hollywood films bound by traditional narrative flow were strongly criticized. French New Wave were also influenced by Italian Neorealism and classical Hollywood cinema.
The French New Wave featured unprecedented methods of expression, such as long tracking shots (like the famous traffic jam sequence in Godard's 1967 film Week End). Also, these movies featured existential themes, such as stressing the individual and the acceptance of the absurdity of human existence. Filled with irony and sarcasm, the films also tend to reference other films.
Many of the French New Wave films were produced on tight budgets; often shot in a friend's apartment or yard, using the director's friends as the cast and crew. Directors were also forced to improvise with equipment (for example, using a shopping cart for tracking shots). The cost of film was also a major concern; thus, efforts to save film turned into stylistic innovations. For example, in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, after being told the film was too long and he must cut it down to one hour and a half he decided (on the suggestion of Jean-Pierre Melville) to remove several scenes from the feature using jump cuts, as they were filmed in one long take. Parts that did not work were simply cut from the middle of the take, a practical decision and also a purposeful stylistic one.
The cinematic stylings of French New Wave brought a fresh look to cinema with improvised dialogue, rapid changes of scene, and shots that go beyond the common 180° axis. The camera was used not to mesmerize the audience with elaborate narrative and illusory images, but to play with the expectations of cinema. The techniques used to shock and awe the audience out of submission and were so bold and direct that Jean-Luc Godard has been accused of having contempt for his audience. His stylistic approach can be seen as a desperate struggle against the mainstream cinema of the time, or a degrading attack on the viewer's supposed naivety. Either way, the challenging awareness represented by this movement remains in cinema today. Effects that now seem either trite or commonplace, such as a character stepping out of their role in order to address the audience directly, were radically innovative at the time.
Classic French cinema adhered to the principles of strong narrative, creating what Godard described as an oppressive and deterministic aesthetic of plot. In contrast, New Wave filmmakers made no attempts to suspend the viewer's disbelief; in fact, they took steps to constantly remind the viewer that a film is just a sequence of moving images, no matter how clever the use of light and shadow. The result is a set of oddly disjointed scenes without attempt at unity; or an actor whose character changes from one scene to the next; or sets in which onlookers accidentally make their way onto camera along with extras, who in fact were hired to do just the same.
At the heart of New Wave technique is the issue of money and production value. In the context of social and economic troubles of a post-World War II France, filmmakers sought low-budget alternatives to the usual production methods, and were inspired by the generation of Italian Neorealists before them. Half necessity and half vision, New Wave directors used all that they had available to channel their artistic visions directly to the theatre.
Finally, the French New Wave, as the European modern Cinema, is focused on the technique as style itself. A French New Wave film-maker is first of all an author who shows in its film his own eye on the world. On the other hand the film as the object of knowledge challenges the usual transitivity on which all the other cinema was based, "undoing its cornerstones: space and time continuity, narrative and grammatical logics, the self-evidence of the represented worlds." In this way the film-maker passes "the essay attitude, thinking – in a novelist way – on his own way to do essays."
The Left Bank, or Rive Gauche, group is a contingent of filmmakers associated with the French New Wave, first identified as such by Richard Roud. The corresponding "right bank" group is constituted of the more famous and financially successful New Wave directors associated with Cahiers du cinéma. Unlike the Cahiers these directors were older and less movie-crazed. They tended to see cinema akin to other arts, such as literature. However they were similar to the New Wave directors in that they practiced cinematic modernism. Their emergence also came in the 1950s and they also benefited from the youthful audience. The two groups, however, were not in opposition; Cahiers du cinéma advocated Left Bank cinema.
Left Bank directors include Chris Marker, Alain Resnais, and Agnès Varda. Roud described a distinctive "fondness for a kind of Bohemian life and an impatience with the conformity of the Right Bank, a high degree of involvement in literature and the plastic arts, and a consequent interest in experimental filmmaking", as well as an identification with the political left. The filmmakers tended to collaborate with one another, Jean-Pierre Melville, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and Marguerite Duras are also associated with the group. The nouveau roman movement in literature was also a strong element of the Left Bank style, with authors contributing to many of the films. Left Bank films include La Pointe Courte, Hiroshima mon amour, La jetée, Last Year at Marienbad, and Trans-Europ-Express.
“Some people think Rohmer is in league with the devil,” wrote cinematographer nestor almendros in his book of autobiographical reflections on the cinema, a man with a camera. He was describing his working experience on My Night at Maud's (1969). “Months before, he had scheduled the exact date for shooting the scene where it snows; that day, right on time, it snowed, and the snow lasted all day long, not just a few minutes.” Later, Almendros makes a curious shift. “It is not just a question of luck; the key lies in Rohmer’s detailed preparation.”
One wonders exactly what Almendros means here. If it hadn’t snowed, would Rohmer’s detailed preparation have paid off so handsomely? Given the fact that he was working with a minuscule budget and a production schedule for which the term rushed seems generous, isn’t it likely that the entire production would have come to a standstill, depriving the film not only of its seasonal atmosphere but of one of its key dramatic elements? (In fact, such a disaster befell the shoot of The Green Ray , when the eponymous phenomenon failed to materialize, and Rohmer was forced to wait an entire year before he got the shot he needed.)
But Almendros was on to something with his seemingly contradictory statements: Rohmer’s meticulous preparation neither dispels the need for luck nor compensates for it. In fact, he creates situations, in his filmmaking and for his characters, in which preparation and chance go hand in hand. Jean-Claude Brialy’s Jérôme, in Claire’s Knee (1970), might be the ultimate Rohmer hero, in that his quest offers a mirror image of Rohmer’s as an artist: to lay the groundwork for a situation in which chance will play the decisive role. No one’s films are more “written,” more narrative based, or more logistically tied to particular places and times of year—Rohmer’s cinema is nothing if not preplanned. On the other hand, Rohmer is just as enamored of the aesthetic felicities of raw, unfolding reality as Jean Renoir or Roberto Rossellini—aesthetic felicities and moral complexities, which are infinitely richer and more . . . complex than in the work of almost any other filmmaker. François Truffaut and Jacques Rivette may have been known as the Jamesians, but while Rohmer is a temperamental world away from the author of “The Beast in the Jungle” and The Wings of the Dove, he is similarly sensitive to the layered proximity of the mental and the physical, the subjective and the objective.
Over the years, Rohmer has received a great deal of attention as a writer of dialogue, or to put it more precisely, as a creator of films structured around talk. He has also been noted as a lover of beautiful young people, as a teller of tales, and as some kind of “moralist.” None of these observations is terribly insightful, least of all the charge of moralism, which seems to rise from a simple misunderstanding of the term “moral tale.” It has often been pointed out that Rohmer is a practicing Catholic, to suggest that his Christianity is at the center of his filmmaking. In fact, while his Jesuit education may very well have instilled him with piety, it also doubtless sharpened his spirit of restless inquiry into the roles played by chance, choice, and grace in life—none of which he ever fully embraces. The Six Moral Tales do not have “morals.” Rather, they are stories of people in the process of making choices that may or may not be moral, examining the basis on which those choices are made, and thus trying to divine the distance between the real and the ideal in the process.
The key ingredient in Rohmer’s cinematic inquiries is the “ordinariness.” When he was a critic, he wrote—rapturously—on Rossellini, and it’s easy to see the link. First of all, Rossellini’s “unreasonable” heroines, like Anna Magnani’s holy fool in The Miracle or Ingrid Bergman’s Irene in Europa ’51, find many echoes in Rohmer’s oeuvre, from Béatrice Romand’s Sabine in Le beau mariage (1982) through Charlotte Véry’s Félicie in A Tale of Winter (1992), not to mention the exceedingly single-minded Jérôme. Rossellini’s penchant for interlacing documentary and fictional imperatives is continued in Rohmer. And Ingrid Bergman’s sudden exclamation of beauty and mystery in Stromboli and the change of heart at the end of Voyage in Italy are very close to the moments of revelation in Rohmer, but with a difference: Rossellini’s films feature dramatically extreme situations (a woman climbing over the top of a volcano to escape from her husband, a couple on the verge of divorce suddenly moved to reconciliation by the uninhibitedly emotional culture around them), and Rohmer’s do not. An engineer forced to spend the night at a divorcée’s house because of a sudden snowstorm in Clermont-Ferrand, a maladroit Parisian finding love on vacation, a middle-aged woman from the south of France in search of a husband for her best friend—this is the stuff of Rohmer’s cinema. The revelations in Rohmer run just as deep as those in Rossellini—that is, we infer that they effect shifts in consciousness just as great—but they arrive via the ordinary, as opposed to the extraordinary. They realign our focus so we can see the wonder of everyday life, realigning our sense of the extraordinary in the process. Jean-Louis Trintignant’s recognition of his wife’s shame at the end of My Night at Maud’s becomes just as wondrous as Francis’s tears before the leper in Rossellini’s Flowers of St. Francis—provided, of course, that one is able to suspend one’s judgment of the intellectually inclined French bourgeoisie and accept the proposition that their uptight little world can provide a window on the infinite.
This is where Rohmer’s intricacy comes into play. Even those who are unable to imagine themselves vacationing with Marie Rivière’s Delphine or Emmanuelle Chaulet’s Blanche—in The Green Ray and Boyfriends and Girlfriends (1987), respectively—or having lunch with Bernard Verley’s Frédéric in Love in the Afternoon (1972), can admire Rohmer’s extraordinary care with dramatic specifics. In My Night at Maud’s, a man (Trintignant) leaves his home in rural France and attends Mass during the Christmas season. He spots a pretty blonde (Marie-Christine Barrault) and, after the service is finished, hops in his car and follows her on her moped. He loses sight of her but soon explains to us in voice-over that this was the day he knew that Françoise was going to be his wife. Next, we see him at home studying mathematics, then at work during his lunch break. He is an engineer at the Michelin plant in Clermont-Ferrand, and when he mentions that he lives in Ceyrat, one of his co-workers remarks on the distance. That night, he stops in at a bookstore and thumbs through a copy of Pascal’s Pensées, and later runs into his old friend Vidal (Antoine Vitez) in a bar. Both men are struck by the fact that they have met completely by chance and quickly embark on a discussion of probability, which segues into Pascal, which in turn eases into philosophy (Vidal is a professor), which is a hop, skip, and a jump to Marxism (Vidal is a Marxist) and Christianity (Trintignant’s unnamed character—we’ll call him Jean-Louis—is a practicing Catholic). Vidal invites Jean-Louis to a Léonide Kogan concert, where there will be “lots of pretty girls,” and then insists that on Christmas night he accompany him to the home of a certain Maud (Françoise Fabian), a divorced woman and good friend with whom, he claims, he occasionally keeps company. His ostensible reason for asking Jean-Louis to accompany him is that he’s afraid that he and Maud will sleep together out of boredom if they’re left alone.
So, we have a sense of place (the Auvergne region) and a time of year (Christmas). We know that Jean-Louis is a Catholic, that he is a loner who lives far from where he works, that he enjoys intellectual pursuits and has a particular interest in theories of probability. We also know, via the curt narration, that he is fairly single-minded (he has decided he’s found the girl of his dreams after a couple of quick glances in church) and that the story we’re watching is in the past tense. We are also primed to accept chance as a major factor, given the manner in which Jean-Louis has spotted Françoise and run into his old friend, not to mention the discussions of Pascal. From there, we’re on to Maud’s house, where everything is turned upside down and inside out.
It is a common misconception that too much dialogue can sink a movie, which is in turn based on the equally common misconception that dialogue is always a forum for direct communication—the kind of dialogue easily found on television or in the majority of commercial films. In Rohmer’s cinema, talk is never just talk and is always a form of indirect action. For Jean-Louis, it is, or becomes, a means of endless postponement. And then there is the crucial matter of the actor who’s speaking the dialogue. There are some things that can be imparted to us easily, without contrivance, by means of narrative exposition. There are other things that cannot. And Rohmer’s knowledge of the difference between the two is one of the many rare qualities that make him such a great filmmaker. Casting is always important, but in Rohmer it is essential. Careful exposition allows us to see all the exterior traits of Jean-Louis—Catholic, intellectual, engineer, former womanizer, etc. But all the exposition in the world would not allow us to see his reticence, referred to in the dialogue long after we’ve noted it (consciously or not) in Trintignant’s comportment, his way of imparting himself one little bit at a time. Rohmer is not the only filmmaker who has mined this trait in Trintignant—it certainly served Bernardo Bertolucci in The Conformist, and it has also worked well for André Téchiné, Truffaut, and Krzysztof Kieslowski. But it is employed in those other films for its sinister edge under extreme melodramatic conditions, while in My Night at Maud’s it is the ordinary trait of a fairly common type of man seen under unremarkable everyday circumstances. Rohmer almost always works with good actors, and Trintignant is no exception. But the core of his presence here is something that is more or less unactable, which puts the film closer to Bresson than one might think. In other words, who Trintignant is, as opposed to his considerable ability as an actor, sits at the heart of this character and this film.
In order for such a strategy to work, nothing can be heightened, and to be sure, nothing ever is heightened in Rohmer’s work. Observation always takes precedence over amplification. A very simple example would be the scene where Maud’s daughter, Marie (played by Marie Becker, Fabian’s own daughter, by Jacques Becker), wakes up and asks her mother if she can look at the lights on the Christmas tree. Maud plugs in the lights, the girl has a look, and then she goes back to bed. Most filmmakers would cut to a point-of-view shot of the lights and back to an expression of wonder on the girl’s face; they would probably also take great care to ensure that the viewer shared in the wonder by framing the shot of the tree so that it became a vision, the Christmas tree. In Rohmer’s film, it’s all done in one medium-shot, and the everyday luminousness of Almendros’s imagery isn’t even slightly jacked up on behalf of the tree or the girl. Rohmer never disrupts the flow of our attention with such shifts, and this allows us an unusual opportunity to scrutinize his characters’ every move. Believability and plausibility at the most minute level are key characteristics of Rohmer’s films—in this case, how single people in their thirties, living in the provinces, behave when they’re alone, how they move, what they talk about, how they draw each other out and defend themselves from self-exposure. As long as you’re not hankering for someone to draw a knife or make a declaration, this provides the way toward a remarkable form of suspense.
What exactly transpires between Maud and Jean-Louis? One way of looking at the film is to see Jean-Louis as a man who plays it safe, rejecting Pascal’s wager by refusing to bet on the possibility of infinite happiness with Maud and banking on a less exciting woman who happens to represent his ideal type. In one sense, this describes My Night at Maud’s to perfection. But on another, deeper level, this is a story of chance—real chance versus ideal chance. “I love surprises,” proclaims Jean-Louis, and just as he is throughout much of the movie, he’s telling himself and the people around him a story. He acknowledges his “reticence,” but he is finally reticent in a way that even he doesn’t fully comprehend. Running into Vidal is a matter of chance. Finding a woman who conforms to his own preconception is not, the probability being exceptionally high that he would eventually meet a woman such as Françoise (especially high in church, since he’s in search of a good Catholic). Maud is not simply a woman of an alternate type—brunette, Protestant (nonpracticing), vivacious, “fast”—she is potentially an agent of transformation. She spends the night listening to two men tell stories about Marxism and Catholicism and Pascal, as articulate as they are indirect in their actions. Vidal tells Jean-Louis that he wants him to come along to save him from sleeping with Maud, but Maud reveals that Vidal is in love with her and that he brought Jean-Louis along as a kind of test; Jean-Louis insists that he wants to go but allows himself to be talked into staying the night because of the snow, then into moving ever closer to Maud’s bed, and finally into it. Jean-Louis thinks he’s revealing himself with all his talk about Catholicism and the sacrament of marriage, but Maud knows that it’s nothing but a barrier, the kind of barrier that men put up in order to shield themselves from the necessity of direct action. By Jean-Louis’ lights, Maud has opened a door through which he is afraid to walk for fear of jeopardizing his resolve. By Maud’s lights, Jean-Louis has already walked through the door and into the room, literally and figuratively, and his resolve and beliefs amount to nothing but impediments to recognizing and negotiating immediate reality. What are the chances that Jean-Louis and Maud will have a life together? Based on her luck with men and his avowed preference for Catholic blondes, not so great. Based on their immediate affinity for each other, not so small. “You are a happy soul, despite appearances,” observes Maud of Jean-Louis—and the essential rightness of this observation is what makes Rohmer a greater artist than Bertolucci and also points to what gives My Night at Maud’s its special spark and effervescence, which, it must be admitted, is not present in every Rohmer film.
Current fashion would favor Maud as the voice of reason when she tartly dismisses Jean-Louis’ prevarications: “I prefer people who know what they want.” Yet there’s something equally admirable about Jean-Louis’ insistence on adhering to his story and fulfilling his own platonic conception with Françoise, a decidedly unhappy soul. The necessity of choice, the pain of choice: no film is better at illuminating these two equally real aspects of living. There are no moments of grace in My Night at Maud’s, at least nothing like Natacha’s discovery of the missing necklace in A Tale of Springtime (1990), the appearance of the green ray, or the unexpected climactic return of the long-lost Charles in A Tale of Winter (such moments, along with the singular and singularly curious case of 1978’s Perceval, are the only indications of Catholicism in Rohmer’s own authorial viewpoint, at least to my mind). Yet there are intimations of grace in the slow, serpentine movement toward intimacy between Maud and Jean-Louis.
Rohmer’s films offer us an exceptionally vivid picture of how we navigate the twists and turns that life throws our way on a daily basis. “All the pleasure of life is in general ideas,” wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes. “But all the use of life is in specific solutions.” No artist has expressed this dichotomy more eloquently, or lovingly, than Eric Rohmer.
Eric Rohmer has been always looked at as a man who was a creator of dialogue in which his stories always focused around talk. He also has been known as a lover of youth, a teller of tales and some kind of moralist. And yet his Six Moral Tales feel less as stories about the morals of a character and more the simple everyday choices they struggle with. He creates what many consider to be philosophical cinema in which the story isn't focused on a large drama but more subtle and smaller everyday things like what certain characters may think, feel and what characters may say and do. His films can be looked upon as a slight study on human behavior, needs, desires, motivations and human nature.
Rohmer's cinematographer once stated, "Some people think Rohmer is in league with the devil. Months before, he had scheduled the exact date for shooting the scene where it snows; that day , right on time, it snowed, and the snow lasted all day long, not just a few minutes. It is not just the question of luck: the key lies in Rohmer's detailed preparation." My Night at Maud's was filmed under a very small budget and a rushed production schedule, I wonder if the film would have ever stalled if he didn't get his final dramatic scene of snow that he wanted. Rohmer was a unique visual artist whose made several different films like the six Comedies and Proverbs and his Tales of the Four Seasons, along with 11 films outside those categories.
His Six Moral Tales stands out to be his most loved and appreciated and all involve character's who go through some sort of spiritual crossroad where men and women are tempted with sex and have to fight their temptations. There are several masterpieces that Rohmer made especially within The Six Moral Tales. The three that stand out as my personal favorites besides A Night at Maud's is his short film The Bakery Girl of Monceau; which tells the honest and sad story of a man who is attracted to one woman but when he believes his chances of getting her are over he is distracted by a lesser woman, only to drop her and go back to his first choice when he realizes that an opportunity to getting the original woman is still likely. La collectionneuse tells the story of two young men who are obsessed and seduced by a promiscuous women who eventually doesn't need the two of them. Then there's Claire's Knee which tells the story of a young mans desire to caress the knee of a woman named Claire. And yet, that knee of hers represents all the delights he is lusting after and yet her knee seems unattainable.
The main character of Jean-Louis in My Night at Maud's is an interesting character because he seems to want to play life safe always trying to be this pure and holy Christian even though he knows like every man he has sexual desires and wants which can conflict with what he believes is morally right and wrong. And yet he doesn't seem too judgemental or put himself on a holy pedestal above other's and he greatly respects other people's different opinions and beliefs; even happily debating them without taking it too personal. Of course before he became a practicing Catholic he had his several flings and one night stands and he even admits that he is not perfect and is not trying to be regarded as an example.
His friend Vidal and Maud lightly tease him because they are both non-religious but at the same time are respectful for his beliefs. And yet Jean-Louis's simple-minded beliefs and his struggle for character, morals, and faith seem to be more of a test of his own self-image and how he projects it onto others. Maud finds him calculating, always planning ahead and classifying people. Just by seeing Francoise at his mass, Jean-Louis already tells himself this is the woman he's going to marry instead of meeting her first and trying to know her personally. He arrogantly would quickly assume she will be his perfect wife instead of letting things first slowly progress and develop to see if the relationship has any potential. All the qualities he is looking for in a future wife is that she has to be blond and Catholic. Those shallow criteria's are all stereotypical exteriors and don't really delve into who the person really is underneath.
What I find interesting is that Jean-Louis is too close minded to accept happiness with Maud because she doesn't fit his certain criteria and will rather be with a much less exciting woman who represents his ideal woman. Jean-Louis believes he is revealing who he truly is with all his Christian talk and yet Maud is too smart for that and can see right through him. She knows he's using his strict religious code as a way to protect himself from the reality of the real world. "You are a happy soul, despite appearances," Maud tells Jean-Louis when the two spend the next day together shopping and cooking back at her place. Maud is a very wise and intelligent woman who not only can see through him but probably all the men in her life and probably calls them all out on it which might be part of the reason her relationships never last. She also seems to see right through Vidal mentioning to Jean-Louis how she knows Vidal still is in love with her and how he brought Jean-Louis over as a certain test for her. Could Jean-Louis and Maud actually be a successful couple? No, because Maud is not a blonde and is not Catholic and based on Maud's luck with men Jean-Louis predictability would eventually bore her. Even though Jean-Louis is a tad plain and boring he is someone to admire because when he plans and fulfills his dream of meeting and marrying Francoise he successfully accomplishes that goal which unfortunately can't be said for most people who have goals or dreams. The ending of the film is interesting because you realize that Jean-Louis's wife was the woman who supposedly had the affair with Maud's husband in which he left Maud and then shortly after left Francoise. You can see the shame in Francoise's expression when Maud and Francoise lock eyes with one another and you know they quickly recognize one another. Everyone has buried secrets and have committed unmoral acts whether they go to church or not and when Jean-Louis sees his wife's guilt and shame he decides to lie and tell her that he slept with Maud even though we know he has not. His tells her this twice in the film, once when she reveals her relationship with a married man and at the end of the film when he realizes the married man was Maud's ex husband. I believe he lies to her to make Francoise feel not feel so guilty for her wrongful actions and to have her realize that everyone is imperfect and can make sinful choices because were all human. It's been said that Rohmer is a practicing Catholic and that his Christianity beliefs are the rooted themes of his films. Whether or not that is true I do find it interesting that Maud who is the confirmed Atheist is in the end unhappy and alone and Francoise and Jean-Louis are happily married and now have a family. Maybe Maud is doing what Jean-Louis has done in where he looked for the woman who fit the criteria of a blonde and a Catholic, and Maud looks for the criteria of her dead lover; the only man she truly loved who unfortunately was killed in a car accident. Our lives are full of twists and turns and shocks and surprises that in the end we never really know where we are going to end up; and no one has articulately expressed those human emotions as beautiful and perfectly as Eric Rohmer has.