The narrator (Jean-Louis), a devout Catholic, moves to a provincial town and vows to marry Francoise, a pretty blond he notices at mass. Vidal, an old school friend, invites him to visit the recently divorced Maud, and the narrator ends up staying the night, having philosophical discussions in her bedroom. Next morning the narrator engineers a meeting with Francoise.
I saw this back in the day, and — unlike other French New Wave films — this film changed my view of film making. Having seen it several times recently, however, I now think it is far better than I thought although I also think that it takes repeated viewings to fully appreciate (is that so unforgivable?).
Many reviewers begin with the discourses on Pascal’s wager and others refer to Rohmer’s confirmation of middle class values. But I suggest that the film is really two films, both of which are fascinating, and which magnify each other. The first is the struggle between a strong woman (Maud) and a man superficially fixated on his image the woman-for-him (Jean-Louis). Here the film enjoys the happy coincidence of perfect casting and great acting. The second film is about all the talk that everyone else except Maud takes so seriously. The real drama is the first film. The second is just an ironic commentary on the first, but is crucial for revealing character, mostly Jean-Louis’, but finally everyone’s.
Yes, the film has ambiguity (hence the need for repeated viewings), and the ambiguity adds to the drama of Jean-Louis’ confusion about his pre-fab future. But I think the moral heart of the film, and the real assessment of characters, is defined by the honesty of their speeches, which is almost impossible to track on the first viewing. (You get the underlying drama at first, but not the intricacies of character revelation.) In the end, only one character proves really honest, and I find that to be the truly poignant — and not entirely explicit — implication of its ending.