My Night at Maud's (Eric Rohmer / France, 1969):
(Ma Nuit chez Maud)

Vertigo is the basis, which Eric Rohmer once analyzed in a prophecy of his own aesthetic: "We travel in space the way we travel in time, as our thoughts and the characters’ thoughts also travel." The preamble traces Jean-Louis Trintignant’s drive from the Ceyrat countryside to frosty Clermont-Ferrand, a long-shot of the urban landscape finds church towers rising out of early-morning mist. The Elusive Woman (Marie-Christine Barrault) is a pious blonde kneeling at Mass; she’s a practicing Catholic like him, he follows her, loses her, decides she will be his wife. He bumps into a Marxist chum (Antoine Videz), they talk Pascal -- Videz appreciates the logic of the Wager (you lose nothing but can gain plenty with faith, the odds are good), Trintignant rebels against the "severity" of the Pensées. Maud the brunette divorcée (Françoise Fabian) welcomes them into her living room: "I must say, you both stink of holy water." "Conflicting matters" inform the debate, Trintignant is a "shamefaced Christian and a shamefaced Don Juan"; he insists he’s done with flings, yet his doctrine quietly quakes before the cool woman curled under bedcovers wearing only her shirt. The bedroom becomes a philosopher’s parlor and a confessional, the temptress gradually sees herself as a matchmaker. The unbroken, four-minute close-up of Fabian, as she goes from poise to sadness while remembering her ex-husband and late lover and then back to poise, is one of countless epiphanies that show why Rohmer became a filmmaker and not a novelist. One person’s lack of spontaneity is another’s soul-bearing, when thought finally turns into gesture it is ill-timed: "I prefer people who know what they want." In bourgie apartments, sandy beaches and hiking trips in the snow, the screen is blanched as rigorously as Dreyer’s. Trintignant’s determination to marry Barrault is confirmed, they settle in "an adventure of sanctity." It all leads to illumination (or regret? or devastation?) at the edge of the ocean. Rohmer watches from afar, droll, graceful and implacably cutting. Cinematography by Nestor Almendros. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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