Six Moral Tales
III. My Night at Maud's
The multifaceted, deeply personal work of Eric Rohmer has had an effect on cinema unlike any other. One of the founding critics of the history-making Cahiers du cinéma, Rohmer began translating his written manifestos to film in the 1960s, standing apart from his New Wave contemporaries with his patented brand of gently existential, hyperarticulate character studies set against vivid seasonal landscapes. This near genre unto itself was established with the audacious and wildly influential series Six Moral Tales. A succession of encounters between fragile men and the women who tempt them, Six Moral Tales unleashed on the film world a new voice, one that was at once sexy, philosophical, modern, daring, nonjudgmental, and liberating.
Eric Rohmer’s My Night at Maud’s gets a Blu-ray upgrade from The Criterion Collection, presented on the second dual-layer disc of their Six Moral Tales set. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 and comes from a new 3K restoration sourced from a 35mm interpositive. The film shares the same disc with the fourth film, La collectionneuse.
The film was one of the better-looking ones in the DVD set so my expectations were a little higher in comparison to the previous two films and they’ve been pretty much met. There were some small bits of damage that remained on the old presentation, primarily light scratches, bits of dirt and some fluctuations, but those have all been eradicated here and I never made a note of anything ever popping up. Contrast is also better with whites and blacks better balanced; the whites on the DVD could look a little extreme. Grayscale is superb and black levels are strong. Some nighttime sequences can look more like a dark gray and some details get lost, but I feel this comes down more to the original photography.
Despite this restoration not being sourced from the negative the level of detail is rather surprising and vast improvement over the DVD, probably the biggest improvement here. Things could get a little waxy on the DVD, partially because of the limitations of the format, but the improved definition and the better scan has significantly improved this aspect of the presentation on Blu-ray, the film’s fine grain now registering and lending a more photographic look. The digital presentation is fine for the most part, but I felt things could get a little noisy around some finer patterns, like the fibers and pattern of a tweed jacket for example. This is something you have to look for, though, and it’s not a glaring shimmer like far weaker digital presentations are inclined to show. This could be a byproduct of any compression that needed to be performed to jam two films onto the same disc (the bitrate for this film is more mid-range on average).
In all it’s a really sharp looking upgrade over the DVD, far more film-like and better at delivering those finer details.
The PCM 1.0 mono presentation does sound better than DVD’s as well, though not significantly. I thought dialogue had a bit more of a punch with better fidelity and the track sounds a bit cleaner with less noise in the background. Outside of that, though, it’s still a fairly basic monaural track.
Each film in the set has a selection of features paired with them. Criterion carries over the archival material found on their old DVD edition for My Night at Maud’s, starting off with a 1965 television episode of the French educational series En profil dans le texte, directed by Eric Rohmer and entitled ”On Pascal.” It features philosophers Dominique Dubarle (a priest) and Brice Parain (not a priest) and I figure it has been paired with this title because of the discussion around Pascal that occurs in the film. The program starts off with the two explaining how they discovered Blaise Pascal (both around the 11th grade) and the impact he had on them more in terms of his thoughts on Catholic theology rather than mathematics, though the latter is touched on to an extent. The two have rather different interpretations (Parain has a harsher reading) but the two talk about their interpretations of his writings and explain their sides patiently with one another. In this day it’s almost refreshing to see really.
Following that is a 14-minute episode 1974 of Télécinéma, hosted by Olivier Lopsac and My Night at Maud’s’ co-producer Pierre Cottrell, actor Jean-Louis Trintignant, and critic Jean Douchet (who is apparently acting as a sort of fill-in for Rohmer since he actively refused to appear on the program according to Lopsac, though he gives a reason). Douchet is there to talk about the themes of the film and the ideas of moral codes in Rohmer’s series of Moral Tales, while the other participants talk about the production and how Rohmer is to work with. Trintignant talks about the film’s dialogue and his discomfort with it at first (he just had to learn to have faith in Rohmer) and, rather interestingly, the last scene of the film was shot first, prior to any casting contracts being signed, so that Rohmer could should what he was intending to do. It’s a short segment (that sounds to have shown after a television showing of) but surprisingly insightful.
The original theatrical trailer then closes off the supplements.
Again, a lack of more scholarly features specific to each film is a huge oversight, but the content here is still rather good.
Wish there were more academic features specific to the individual films in the set, but the presentation is a big improvement over the previous DVD’s.