Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Moral Relationships: Eric Rohmer's "My Night At Maud's"

Coming of cinematic sensibility and lumped in with the French New Wave of the 50's and 60's, filmmaker Eric Rohmer always seemed to stand a bit outside of the group.... partly due to the decade he had on the others in the movement, but mostly because his films were stylistically simpler and thematically denser than his counterparts. I don't mean that as a slight against the others, but his are simply more delicate. A fine case in point is "My Night At Maud's", one of his six "Moral Tales" films completed over the course of a decade that made waves on both shores of the Atlantic.

Eschewing the cinematic language tricks that defined the work of Godard, Truffaut and Eustache, Rohmer's tale even dispenses with the lovelorn cad of a male character, opting instead for Jean-Louis Trintignant's devout Catholic thinker who gets a beautiful woman (the titular Maud, played by Francoise Fabian) throwing herself at him, and all he can do is lament about the deeper things in his life. The conversation that Jean-Louis and Maud have in her apartment- after she ushers out her lover and Jean-Louis' friend who brought him to her apartment in the first place- is the throbbing heart of the film. Running in real time for approximately 25 minutes, their conversation is playful, intellectual, flirtatious... and one that does end with both of them in bed together. It's a one-night stand, but Rohmer doesn't make it feel cheap or dirty. Or, in the case of the French New Wave habits, something of a prerequisite conquest that encompasses most of the basest male elements.

Entering Jean-Louis' life around the same time is Francoise, a young blonde he spies in church one night and then continually runs into around town as she zips to and fro on her bicycle. After leaving Maud's, he begins a relationship with her that will transform into a stunning years later coda that trembles with anticipation and peaceful resolve as the three meet on French beach. Each one has gone their disparate ways in life, and Rohmer handles the run-in with complete care.

"My Night At Maud's" is aptly titled because, like so many moments in life, the short time Maud and Jean-Louis spent together seemed to define them for the rest of their lives, like an intersection that yields both ways and allows the driver to swerve whichever direction they want. And of his Six Moral tales, the film is tender not only for the attention to body language, but the refusal to treat his men and woman as anything other than on-screen playthings.

1 comment:

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