There are plenty of intellectually stimulating conversations in the third film in Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales series, My Night at Maud’s. The characters talk and talk and talk as they move from one location to another and walk across their rooms. This is precisely the sort of thing that would bore most viewers and some may even call these films pretentious. But as an interested observer who is trying to understand the various complexities of life, I found so much to admire in this classy French film. I found so much to relate to in the lonely and unmarried 34-yr old protagonist Jean-Louis played by Jean-Louis Trintingnant (one of my favorite actors). The only difference between him and me is that I’m not a deeply religious man as he is.
But we share some similarities when it comes to our philosophies, especially on marriage. In this man’s mind, there is this ideal woman that he hopes to meet some day and marry. He hopes that she’ll be a devout Catholic as he is and she is a blonde. His eyes are set on this blonde woman named Francoise that he comes across one day in church. He follows her outside the church and even in his car until he loses sight of her. However, he is able to see her again on more than one occasion after that. But let’s go back to Jean-Louis now. One night, he runs into an old buddy of his Vidal, a professor of philosophy who also happens to be a Marxist.
They sit down at a restaurant, talk about chance, their opposing beliefs, philosophies and their ideas on women among other things. Vidal is currently pursuing a relationship with a recently divorced woman named Maud (played by Francoise Fabian). She is as free-spirited as Vidal is. And this is where Jean-Louis differs from them. Another round of discussions follow. Once again, the topics are centered around religion, love, chance, women, philosophy, Mathematics etc. As Vidal is about to leave, he persuades Jean-Louis to stay with Maud. In fact, it is Maud who wanted Vidal to leave and wanted Jean-Louis to stay. But Vidal is perfectly okay with this as he thinks it would lead to something interesting between them.
I’ve been meaning to explore Rohmer’s filmography for quite some time now and I thought this film would be a good place to start, seeing how popular it is with many, especially in the U.S. I liked what I saw. I enjoyed each and every single conversation these characters were having even though I found it a little difficult to process some of them due to the presence of the subtitles. It’s not easy looking at the subtitles and observing the characters’ expressions and body language as they say these lines. You are reading them and trying to figure out if the characters really believe in what they are saying and if there is a chance of them straying from their beliefs. Today, this sort of thing is being attempted by filmmakers like Richard Linklater and Woody Allen. I bet they both are big Rohmer fans, especially Linklater.