My Night at Maud's Review

My Night at Maud's (Ma nuit chez Maud, sometimes less accurately translated as My Night with Maud) is the third-numbered of Rohmer's Six Moral Tales, but was the fourth to be released, after Number Four, La Collectionneuse. After that film's sunny St Tropez setting, we're now in wintry Clermont-Ferrand, and in black and white. (Maud was Rohmer's second and last monochrome feature film. Rohmer and his regular cinematographer Nestor Almendros made a point to avoid any reference to colour: if someone has a drink, for example, it will be vodka or water rather than, say, crème de menthe.) Jean-Louis (Trintignant) is an engineer who lives a very orderly life, but has become interested in ideas about chance and probability. He's a faithful Catholic who thinks he has found his ideal woman in Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault) whom he has met in Church. But a chance meeting with an old friend, Vidal (Antoine Vitez), leads to him spending a night with the free-spirited – and very tempting – divorcee Maud (Françoise Fabian).

Maud received two Oscar nominations, for Best Foreign-Language Film and Best Original Screenplay, and was the first of Rohmer's films to receive wide distribution. It is indeed one of his very best films, but newcomers to his work may wish to start elsewhere, perhaps with La Collectionneuse or Chloe in the Afternoon. Jean-Louis, Maud and Vidal are given to long, intellectual discussions on chance and fate, taking in Blaise Pascal's wager on the existence of God along the way. (The wager suggests that it is better to believe in God than not to believe: if you don't believe and are proved right, you have gained nothing, but if you do believe and are right you gain everything.) The characters are serious to a fault, but the film isn't. Rohmer uses dialogue to reveal character (and to a large extent character is plot in his films) and always views his characters, men especially, with considerable irony. Rohmer shows that people like these, who can discuss philosophical issues without difficulty, are just as clumsy as everyone else with matters of the heart. Trintignant, who spends much of the film in a jacket and tie, gives an excellent study in buttoned-down physicality. Fabian's performance as Maud – less "unknowable" than Chloe or Haydée from La collectionneuse, but like many Rohmer women more together than the men around her – is very alluring.

In the past, I've complained that Fox Lorber's DVDs have been no more than adequate. Maud is slightly better than most. Like all but one of Rohmer's films prior to 1981, the film was shot in Academy Ratio, so it's no surprise that we get a 4:3 transfer. With colour films like La Collectionneuse and Chloe, Almendros's characteristic natural-light photography has given rather soft results on DVD, at least in Fox Lorber's transfers. Black and white film has more contrast by definition, and hence this transfer is much sharper, though still on the soft side. It's from a much-better-condition original than the other two. The sound is the original mono, and necessarily dialogue-dominated, but it's clearly recorded with only occasional hiss. The subtitles can't be switched off, but each letter has a black border so that they're easy to read.

As with the other Fox Lorber disks, extras are meagre. There are film credits which (apart from being in English and adding character names) can be found during the opening credits. There are filmographies of Rohmer (complete to 1996) and Trintignant (selected). The scene-access menu suggests that there are only nine chapters, which would be miserly, but in fact the disk has twenty-eight. The running-time above is accurate (many reference books give 110 minutes).

Needless to say this film won't be for everyone. Those unsympathetic to Rohmer's methods may agree with Gene Hackman's character in 1975's Night Moves, who saw this very film and described it as "like watching paint dry". But for Rohmer's fans worldwide, and there are many, it'll be an essential purchase.

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