The Pascal Void in Éric Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s (1969) June 7, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Alliance Française, Cine Europa, European Films.
French Title: Ma Nuit Chez Maud
Written and directed by Éric Rohmer
Cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant, Françoise Fabian, Marie-Christine Barrault, Antoine Vitez
As much as I would want to laugh it off and call it a draw, the nonsense intellectual whoring between the two Anonymous in Oggs Cruz’s post on Now Showing presents an interesting case study. Not reading the entire throat-slashing, gut-ripping statements will definitely save you from a lot of trouble – – I’m sure by the time you reach halfway, you can already feel your temples throbbing – – because the gist of it is fairly easy to grasp. It meanders from simple comments to efficacious banters that eventually leads to self-serving warfare between nameless offenders who relentlessly exercise their said freedom of expression. Sadly, the nature of the worldwide web encourages profane behavior from anonymous users – – closeted, self-righteous individuals who find comfort in throwing nasty words to filmmakers whom they consider unworthy of recognition. It could have been an intelligent and sensible discourse if the majority of its participants have tried to look up in the dictionary the meaning of the words respect and civil; but it turns out that their heads are filled up with so much air that these two words are huge enough to find entry. Therefore the hope for a civil discussion remains a hope, because in a country where starting a discourse is as difficult as putting up with it, it really defies comprehension.
That’s the devil’s advocate marking his words. In defense of those who took part in the discussion, however, it shows that we, Filipinos, have a lot to say about issues. We have millions of ideas; we have a galaxy to say about the world. We could even build an idea bank, earn from it, and subsequently become a First World country. We have thousands of inventors that remain unrecognized. We glorify overseas workers yet we neglect the few, heroic nurses who choose to stay in the country despite the alms they receive from their employers. The Philippines stands as one of the wonders of the world – – because through the years, it makes you wonder why, despite continued efforts to facilitate national development, we still plunge in social decay and cultural anonymity. We are thinkers; but we are not doers. We lack that act when the hand puts the important things into place. We yearn for change but we are busy doing something else unrelated to it. Yet we still survive – – and that’s the most impressive thing – – amidst the hopeless case of a disappearing archipelago.
Which brings me to Eric Rohmer’s effusive My Night at Maud’s, the third installment in his series of Six Moral Tales, and the film that catapulted his name into international fame. All things considered, if there is one film that rightfully characterizes the French logic and their argumentative nature, this must be it. The Christian mass in the opening scene is preparatory – – the foundation of religion, no matter how trite it is as a topic, proves to be the most enduring subject of conversation among people; thus, the endless exchange of words between the characters in the film is inevitable – – the Scriptures tells us so. Heavy with philosophical points and lengthy arguments which delve mostly on Pascal’s Wager, this is Rohmer delivering his views on relationships between men and women. Unlike his contemporaries, Rohmer is laid-back and assertive; his tempered direction makes Godard and Truffaut look like the bad students in the honor roll (to quote from the Now Showing discussion), and him the teacher’s pet because his films are the type that professors love to indulge themselves into – – the moral and metaphysical plight of man and his existence in this world full of spiritual ideas.
The French are good at this – – two people talking, exchanging thoughts about their lives, mundane topics, then later on an interesting idea pops up, someone quotes a line from a book he read, the conversation goes on forever, then the other guy remembers a line from the film he just saw, and when their coffees arrive, they continue their colloquies as if they will never see each other again, and talk about anything under the sun, yada, yada, yada, and they part ways; in fact, Louis Malle did something like that and filmed two characters over dinner for two hours and came up with My Dinner with Andre. Words run in their blood – – these French people – – and it seems to work as their vitamins, fueling them with ideas no matter how absurd still qualify as highbrow, because cosmopolitan hegemony tells us that when you talk about existentialism, for example, in a subtle way, you can talk almost about anything, and that you are superior over things that matter less to this absurdly intellectual world. This could possibly account for brainwashing but the French are the masters of this style – – the shameless philosophizing and intellectual whoring – – and it reflects their sensibilities. It’s a misunderstanding to say that My Night at Maud’s fails just because it talks a lot, it’s boring, and it lacks action. It is a writer’s film; therefore, it gains its vigor from the lines that its characters deliver and the turn-out of events in its narrative, in such a way that other aspects of the films do not sacrifice, which in this case, as My Night at Maud’s proves, is possible. There are phases in our life that we lean more on the serious, and seeing this film with those eyes can prove to be entertaining, if not digestible.
Taken out of context, this statement from Raya Martin honestly hits the mark: “. . . that the problem with cultivating film culture in the Philippines is a problem with Filipino culture itself.” The great thing with problems, they are relative, and they make you realize that being the paragon of cultural distinction does not exempt one from criticism – – a damaged culture is still functional, and it will exist until no one remembers it anymore. * * * *