Eric Rohmer Peter Cowie

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Peter Cowie

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

At first glance, Ma Nuit chez Maud may appear intolerably stuffy, and removed from the realities of life in a French provincial town. La Collectionneuse, Eric Rohmer's other "conte morale" seen in this country, was altogether too much the work of an aesthete who rigorously eschewed any kind of emotional sympathy with his characters. But in Ma Nuit chez Maud we are scarcely aware of this intellectual standpoint. The film works simply because it lives up to its pretensions. It "cites" Pascal much as Bergman "cites" Mozart in Hour of the Wolf, but it is perfectly comprehensible to the viewer who is unfamiliar with the "Lettres Provinciales" or the "Pensées"….

Rohmer allows us to identify with Jean-Louis from the start…. His manner betrays dissatisfaction with his loneliness, and it is this vein of frustration that makes him vulnerable to all the events of the film. Yet secretly we relish identification with a man whose eyes glance eagerly at an attractive blonde during Mass….

So to a certain extent we comply with Jean-Louis's decisions from now on….

It is a measure of Rohmer's achievement that we still side with Jean-Louis against the somewhat mocking sophistication of Vidal and his attractive divorcee friend, Maud. (p. 11)

Conversation is vital in Ma Nuit chez Maud. It lays bare the four characters more cleanly and with less affectation than any violent action could. The long discussions on science, morals, and Pascal are not so rarefied as they might seem. Every argument raised has its counterpart—or its demonstration —in the film's proceedings. In Pascal, says Vidal, mathematician and metaphysician are one, and it is not long before we perceive why Jean-Louis shrinks from the Jansenist camp. For Pascal despised the relaxed morality of the Jesuits. In the "Pensées" he sided boldly with faith against reason, urging his readers to discipline...

(The entire section is 456 words.)