My Night At Maud’s: A Very Rohmer Christmas

A very Catholic individual winds up in an intellectual and spiritual battle in Eric Rohmer’s 1968 film Ma Nuit Chez Maud (My Night At Maud’s).

The shadow of French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Catholic philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) blankets the film. In fact, My Night At Maud’s is set mostly in Pascal’s native Clermont-Ferrand.

Pascal was a Jansenite, part of a sect of Catholicism that believed in the emphasized importance of original sin. In My Night At Maud’s, Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) denies and rejects the Calvinist doctrine in favor of his interpretation of Jesuit doctrine. Jean-Louis prefers the looser Jesuit interpretation and, conversely, stricter execution of the doctrine.

Another point of contention in the film is Pascal’s Wager, a philosophy that one should live their life as if God (and more specifically, Jesus Christ) exists even if you do not really believe it. This philosophical point conflicts with how Jean-Louis lives. For instance, he believes in Jesus Christ, or at least says he does, but his actions and deeds are often in conflict. This conflicts becomes relevant when Jean-Louis meets his boyhood friend Vidal (Antoine Vitez), which disrupts Jean-Louis’ intentions to court the blonde, almost untouched Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault). Vidal, a lapsed Catholic and a socialist, introduces Jean-Louis to the Marxist divorcee Maud (Françoise Fabian) and the plot thickens.

The film centers around a talk about Pascal’s philosophy. Ironically, Jean-Louis, Vidal and Maud are in their mid-thirties, a few years older than Jesus was upon his crucifixion. After an impromptu trip to a recital and then to midnight mass, they wind up at Maud’s for dinner, conversation, and temptation.

 

In the middle of the trio’s philosophical discussion, Maud’s daughter Marie wakes up, and wants to see the lights on the Christmas tree. Maud obliges, but turns it off after less than a minute before sending Marie back to bed. This is an analogy for Marie’s interest in religion, both as a childish endeavour, and as a philosophical plaything.

 

My Night At Maud’s is the third (yet fourth filmed) of Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales. It is also the second in the series to run at feature length, and the final (and only feature length) film to be shot in black and white. Cinematographer Nestor Almendros uses the film to highlight the darkness and the light of winter, and the various shades of morality in the film’s characters.

By Tom Keiser

My Night at Maud’s screens this Wednesday
September 21, 7:30 p.m.
L’Etage / 624 South 6th Street / Philadelphia, PA
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