Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) is the modern prince of the nouvelle vague. He is a disturbingly handsome man, boyish yet stoic, and has a voice so plutonic, it could sear a woman’s soul. He is steadfast in his Catholicism, world-view and the woman he wants to marry; that is, until he meets up with an old friend Vidal (Antoine Vitez) and spends an unplanned night with the beautiful and open-minded, divorcee, Maud (Françoise Fabian).
In the meditative, opening scene, Jean-Louis presents as a bachelor man, comforted by the rituals of the Catholic Mass. He stands in church, listening intently to the Priest, with half an eye on the beautiful, blonde Françoise (Marie-Christine Barrault). Director Eric Rohmer allows the camera to linger on Françoise in an almost worshipful way, as though she is a statue of the Madonna. After Mass, Jean-Louis follows her, not on a horse with a slipper in his hand, but in his car, as she speeds through the town on her scooter. Of course, he loses her. But that won’t deter Jean-Louis: he is hooked and is determined to meet her again.
Jean-Louis bumps into Vidal, an old friend and the two discuss Marxism and Pascal’s Wager (the pragmatic position that if a person believes in God, and he turns out to exist, then he gains an eternity, and if God doesn’t exist, then the person loses nothing). Vidal invites Jean-Louis to dine with Maud and the three commence their evening of intellectual discussion and flirtation. When Vidal eventually leaves for the evening, Maud attempts a compelling seduction; she tests Jean-Louis’s principles and making him forget, for a short time, the blonde on the scooter. After all, he claims, in that deep, gently nasal voice: ‘chasing girls does not remove you from God’ or interrupt his pursuit of saintliness.
Despite its muscular intellectualism Ma Nuit Chez Maud’s great beauty rests in Rohmer’s characteristic adoration and respect for the characters’ meandering thoughts and inconsistencies. It is the fact that they may say one thing, and do another that gives them their humanity. Rohmer directs with a respectful distance, allowing Maud, Vidal and Jean-Louis to breathe and form through their cool reasoning, jealousies and desire. Rohmer refuses to judge them, and neither do we. Discussing love, desire, religion and philosophy are as crucial to their existence as breakfast and a cigarette.