Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a devout, unmarried engineer, has a very specific profile in mind for his ideal wife: attractive, blonde, intelligent, and above all, a practicing Catholic. He believes that he has found his soulmate when he spots a young student named Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault) in a crowded church during Sunday mass, and resolves to make her his wife. He attempts to catch up to Françoise, but loses sight of her behind a slow moving vehicle. One evening, he encounters a childhood friend at a restaurant, a philosophy professor named Vidal (Antoine Vitez), and the two begin to discuss the nature of religion and politics as a logical consequence of Pascal’s wager: If a man bets on God’s existence, and God does not exist, then a man loses nothing; but if a man bets on God’s existence, and God does exist, then his reward is infinite. Vidal is fascinated by the modernism of Pascal’s theories – a fusion of religion and mathematics – and believes that the philosophy applies to all aspects of life, even the rise of communism. In contrast, Jean-Louis takes exception to the “severity” of Pascal’s theories, but ironically accepts the strict moral code of the Catholic church. Vidal invites Jean-Louis to meet the beautiful, sophisticated Maude (Francoise Fabian), and soon the conversation, once again, turns into a philosophical discussion. Jean-Louis insists that despite youthful indiscretions, he is ready for marriage, and cannot be tempted into having a meaningless affair. However, when Jean-Louis becomes stranded in Maud’s house during a snow storm, can he resist her beguiling charm and liberating honesty, and remain “faithful” to Françoise – the “wife” he has not met?
Eric Rohmer presents a fascinating, clever, and insightful film on principles, faith, and love in My Night at Maud’s, the third film (first full length feature) in Rohmer’s remarkable examination of morality in contemporary society, Six Moral Tales. Rohmer abandons reverse angles and panning shots in favor of filming individual characters through extended takes, composed of medium shots. The result is a visual sense of dialogue between the actor and the audience. Note the camera’s singular focus on Maud after Vidal leaves. The scene is a subtle reflection of Jean-Pierre’s increasing attraction towards the alluring Maud – an attraction that is further validated by their extended conversation, and his continued affection for her after meeting Françoise. My Night at Maud’s is a refreshingly simple, witty, yet profound observation on the exhilarating process of love – from the first glance to the destined meeting – and, in between, all the wonderful distractions that momentarily derail its inevitable course.
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