Thursday, November 1, 2018

Ma nuit chez Maud (Eric Rohmer, 1969)

Eric Rohmer’s Ma nuit chez Maud is one of my favourite films, one I return to every few years, the experience at once always warmly familiar and subtly evolving. I think much of my pleasure is based in nostalgic idealism, in the idea of a culture where a conversation even with someone new is more likely to leap to philosophy and self-analysis than to the usual establishing banalities – I always think of the film as a kind of tribute to the examined life. This doesn’t mean that the examination is entirely rational or consistent – as in many Rohmer films, there’s a recurring sense that much of what people say about themselves is experimental, put out there to see how it flies, to find out what alchemy may result from the response. This resonates fascinatingly against the film’s preoccupation with a Pascalian wager, with the concept of present sacrifice for the sake of infinite ultimate gain. The limitations of that concept can be laid out almost endlessly, but without staining its metaphysical allure, or its (albeit crude) applicability to romantic commitment – a Pascalian approach to love might almost demand making the “wrong” choice of partner, for the sake of alignment with one’s normative philosophical or cultural benchmarks. The film brilliantly facilitates and interrogates such thoughts, at once providing a detailed immediate canvas (indelibly capturing its time and place, the Christmas season in provincial France) and suggesting a broader one (the protagonist has spent the last fourteen years working in Canada and Chile, a combination spanning the, how to put it, mundane and exotic?). The film ultimately draws on a coincidence of the kind that in a less elegant film would only prompt eye-rolling, but which here serves to confirm the mysteries of the romantic navigation, while also providing a closure of gorgeously conceived irony and great humanity, even as it allows its male protagonist one last opportunity for self-mythologizing.

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