Title: My Night at Maud’s
Release Date: May 15, 1969
Director: Éric Rohmer
Production Company: Compagnie Française de Distribution Cinématographique (CFDC)
For years I’ve known of My Night at Maud’s as one of the all-time great films primarily based on its prominent display in the foreign movie section of the video store I frequented in the 1990s, but I’d never watched it before. I’d imagined it was a comedic romp (and perhaps a bit raunchy) based on the title and poster. It is nothing of the sort and is in fact a movie where people have in-depth philosophical conversations about morality and religion. That’s fine by me, and like there to be more movies like this, but as Roger Ebert points out, you want to prepare yourself for it.
The protagonist is Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a man in his 30s who has recently begun to work in the small French city of Clermont. A devout Catholic, he’s developed a crush on a woman he sees at church named Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault), but has not had the confidence to approach her. On a chance meeting, Jean-Louis is reacquainted with an old friend, Vidal (Antoine Vitez), who in turn introduces Jean-Louis to his friend with benefits, Maud (Françoise Fabian).
When it starts to snow, Vidal excuses himself but since Jean-Louis lives outside the city, he stays the night at Maud’s. The next day he encounters Françoise and finally introduces himself. That night he gives her a ride home but when his car gets stuck on ice ends up spending another chaste night out at her apartment complex.
All of this plot is merely the structure to hang the deep conversations among the four primary characters, with Maud and Vidal offering atheist perspectives to the religious Jean-Louis and Françoise. Their conversations are both direct and exceptionally corteous and should be an example to us all. A coda to the film reveals a surprise twist so subtle I missed it entirely until I read a summary of the film.
My Night at Maud does not feel like a movie made over 50 years ago and it could be remade today with few changes (not that it should).