Thursday, 3 October 2019

My Night at Maud's (Ma Nuit Chez Maud) (1969)

Min nat hos Maud
I have heard a lot about the movies by Eric Rohmer, but seen very little of his production. Whether “My Night with Maud” (Ma nuit chez Maud) is representative of his movies I have no idea, but it has certainly made me curious.

Right off the bat I have to admit that I am fearfully unequipped to parse this movie. I therefore excuse my lack of understanding of some of the central elements of this story.

As the story go it is fairly straight forward. Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a single engineer living in Clermont, France. It is near Christmas and there is a girl he has seen that he really would like to meet. In fact, he believes he is in love with her, although he knows nothing about her.

Before he gets as far as to meet her he encounters an old friend, Vidal (Antoine Vitez), who invites him to spend an evening with a friend of his, a divorced doctor called Maud (Francoise Fabian). This turns out to be a long evening with lots of talking and because of the weather Jean-Louis spends the night there.

The next day he approaches the girl, Francoise (Marie-Christine Barrault), a 22 year old biology student, and drives her home and spends the night there. Five years later they are married with a child.

This all sound a bit drab. The interesting part is what happened that night at Maud’s. The three of them ends up discussing Pascal, particularly an item known as “Pascal’s Wager”. Now, this is where I got out of my depth and I had to look this up. Pascal as I recall was a brilliant scientist and the unit for pressure is named after him. What I did not know was that he also made the foundations for probability theory and differential equations. He built a mechanical calculator and, which is central to the movie, wrote a major work on theology. Not, as you might think, a positivistic, scientific treatise, but a highly mystical one. I understand that the intention of his work was to bring the reader to despair and confusion in order to embrace God. Pascal’s Wager goes something like that you have to gamble whether or not you believe in God. Even if the probability of God’s existence is small, the reward is infinite, so you have no choice but to choose God.

Jean-Louis is a Catholic while Vidal and Maud are not. The discussion seems to be a challenge to him on his faith and this is where I am insufficiently schooled in religious matters to follow this discussion on Pascal.

What I do understand is that Maud is an infinitely more interesting woman than Francoise, that Jean-Louis gets a unique chance to get a relationship with this clever and beautiful woman, but refuse her in favor of an unknown woman barely out of her teens on the grounds that Maud is not Catholic.

Is this the central point of the movie then? That Jean-Louis choose the girl he knows nothing about because of the promise of infinite joy in a religious life? Or is it the other way around, that Jean-Louis misses the true challenge, to be in the big, unknown relationship with a woman who will challenge him all the way and instead chooses the simple and easy solution where his life and thinking goes unchallenged? Or is the purpose of the night with Maud, like that of Pascal, to confuse and despair Jean-Louis in order to enable him to embrace love with Francoise?

There is a lot to think about here, and I think I will go a long time contemplating this movie.

I would love to hear from somebody better schooled in Pascal, Jansenism and religious discussions how to interpret this movie.

Definitely a rewarding movie, but one that requires attention and patience. Certainly, one to make me curious about Rohmers other movies.

Incidentally Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont. So was Audrey Tautou.


  1. I haven't seen them all by any means but I would not say this is a "typical" Roehmer movie though it does touch on a lot of his themes. I think the best part is that Francoise is as "bad" a girl as Maud. Just because you go to church doesn't mean you are not a sinner. And Maud takes the "Christian" option of not revealing what she knows. Looking forward to seeing this again if I ever finish 1967.

    1. That is an interesting point that I missed completely. I really should see it again and some more Rohmer.