I watched My Night at Maud’s while Polly revolted against the core principles of civility.
This might not be the right millennium for an Eric Rohmer retrospective. Wrong decade. Wrong year. And certainly wrong month — a grand jury indictment of over 300 Catholic Priests who have sexually abused over 1,000 kids in Pennsylvania alone is far from the perfect background for a morality tale about a Catholic guy who is conflicted about dating outside of his religion. I guess he was one of the lucky ones.
Rohmer’s famous middle chapter in his series of Morality Tales feels like a well preserved artifact in a time capsule. It depicts a world idealists dream of as they spin their collection of The Cure albums on 180-gram vinyl while swiping through Tinder profiles. A night of philosophical debates and no sex with someone you have obvious chemistry with because of your self imposed interpretation of religious dogma is as much a fantasy as the Tooth Fairy at this point.
I was told, ‘millennials don’t date anymore, they just hook-up with people till they find one they like.’
So what can we take from Rohmer in the modern world? Have we grown past the pressures of faith? Have we swiped right past the dangerous domains of dating? Would three people in a room have all read a book that wasn’t Harry Potter? Does Pascal’s Wager align well with the Y.O.L.O. principles of the day.
Perhaps we need to step away from the context of Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s for a minute to put his significance into perspective. Kevin Smith, the filmmaker behind the indie smash hit, Clerks, cites Richard Linklater’s Slackers as the film that opened the doors to the idea that anyone can make a movie. Both Slackers and Clerks were movies about average people talking about the zeitgeist of their particular socioeconomic station with varying degrees of camera movement. Rohmer was doing that with a little bit more of a stuffy subject matter thirty years before them. It’s inspiring, even if it’s unrelatable.
Gene Hackman’s character in Night Moves famously decried, ‘I watched a Rohmer movie once. It was kind of like watching paint dry.’
I can see people having that feeling, though I think the statement was meant to be ironic, considering the subdued tone of Night Moves. I had watched My Night at Maud’s before, back in my more pretentious days, and I don’t think I really cared much for it. I was struggling to penetrate their conversation because I was naive and had a very narrow perspective of the world. This time I found it more intriguing.
Maud and Jean-Louis should have been together. They had real chemistry. It was palpable and you could tell their mutual friend Vidal felt it and was perhaps jealous of it, but resigned to the fact that he and Maud just didn’t have it. Not having them together on the beach at the end gives the film an almost tragic vibe. There is no chance of eternal happiness between Jean-Louis and Francoise because they really shouldn’t be together.
So what is Rohmer trying to tell us by having the wrong people get together because they share a common membership? It would be like not dating outside your Party Lines even if you had an electric relationship with someone who didn’t check every one of your belief boxes. Perhaps this makes his films even more important now, when we’re as divided as ever and only seek reinforcement for our beliefs rather than a challenge to our world view. Maybe that son-of-a-bitch still has a point in a world that is growing ever more black and white.