I’ve mentioned before how it seems all the important directors in the middle of the 20th century seem to have, at minimum, two films on the list; one from their heyday, or era of work that garnered them their status of important, and one from their later years, an almost obligatory second slot that seems to be just to cement their status on the list. Such is the case with Eric Rohmer, one of the bigger French New Wave directors, who established himself a little after the rest of this category. I’ve seen his later list work, A Tale of Winter, and found it wholly featureless and unremarkable, but it was this dichotomy of having two list films that caused me to look at his earlier work, My Night at Maud’s, with slightly raised expectations; this is supposed to be the man at the top of his game. Well, if this is indeed Rohmer at the top of his game, then he is playing a very interesting game indeed, though it will be one that will seem very oblique and brick-wall-esque to those who would not take to Rohmer’s style of gameplaying all too well.
For one, the film doesn’t really have much of a plot, but it does have narrative. The plot consists of two old friends, played by Jean-Louis Trintignant and Antoine Vitez, meeting each other after quite some time, to which Vitez’s character introduces his friend to the third member of their roundtable, Maud, and Trintignant ends up spending the night at Maud’s, which causes him problems with his religious affiliation and vow to marry someone else. All of this, however, is secondary to the real focus of the film, and that is lively discussion. There was a very interesting debate near the beginning of the film about how mathematics and philosophy meet (at least, it was interesting to me), and it was that scene and the follow-up one in the concert hall that I was able to peg down Rohmer’s filmmaking style. From what I gathered, Rohmer is very much a vignette director; this film pretty much consists of individual scenes, like the math/philosophy discussion or the actual concert afterwards, of which we see probably a good two solid minutes of just the pianist and the violinist, and aside from a very loose narrative thread connecting each scene to the next, each individual scene could very well come from a completely different film than the one that follows it. As the film continued, my assessment seemed to play out very much like how I had formulated it; the film is pretty much individual scene after individual scene, containing many discussions about life, love, religion, and philosophy, and it was thanks to my figuring out what kind of film it was going to be about twenty minutes in that I was able to better appreciate the film on its own merits.
Now, all that said, I hinted in the opener that some would find a film like this far too wordy to be likable, and far too technical to be understood, and watching this film or others like it would, to them, be akin to trying to see the inside of a brick wall by slamming their head into it over and over. I don’t really know how to isolate such an audience from the rest of the moviegoing populace in order to inform them that this is likely to be a film that they will detest; all I can say is, if you’re the kind of person that does not enjoy watching people have an engaged discussion on various topics, then a vast majority of this film is definitely not for you. If, on the other hand, you do enjoy such discussion, either watching it from the outside or taking part in it yourself, you just might find something to like about My Night at Maud’s. Don’t get me wrong; this is mostly a film about people talking with each other, but what these people are discussing actually has some depth and meaning to it, rather than being vapid or superficial under the guise of being cynically profound, like some other films have done. I can see why this was chosen to represent Rohmer on the list (his later work aside), and I’d agree with its placement, if only because this is a unique enough experience that, unless you know for a fact is completely not for you, every film fan should at least give a try at some point in their lives.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10