(director/writer: Eric Rohmer; cinematographer: Nestor Almendros; editor: Cécile Decugis; music: Mozart; cast: Jean-Louis Trintignant (Jean-Louis), Antoine Vitez (Vidal), Françoise Fabian (Maud), Marie-Christine Barrault (Françoise), Léonide Kogan (Concert Violinist); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Pierre Cottrell/Barbet Schroeder; Fox Lorber; 1969-France-in French with English subtitles)
“Delightful art film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is the third of French filmmaker and former Cahiers’ critic Eric Rohmer’s (“Pauline at the Beach”/”Love in the Afternoon”/”Claire’s Knee”) adult dramas that are based on his six moral tales. This delightful art film was Rohmer’s breakthrough film and established him as an internationally celebrated filmmaker. It’s a fascinating talky intellectual film that takes place one evening between two would-be lovers, who manage to have a chaste evening together even though there’s a mutual attraction. It’s an excellent pic about relationships and how difficult it can be to find love and live a moral life based on either religion or belief. It also brings up for thought Pascal’s wager: “If a man bets on God’s existence, and God does not exist, then a man loses nothing; but if a man bets on God’s existence, and God does exist, then his reward is infinite.

The 34-year-old bachelor engineer Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a world traveller, living previously in Canada and Chile, and a practicing Catholic and avid but critical admirer of Pascal, has a new position in the French provinces of Clermont Ferrand with Michelin. During the Christmas season he accidentally bumps into an old acquaintance he hasn’t seen for 14 years, the Marxist philosophy professor at the local college, Vidal (Antoine Vitez), who invites him after the Christmas Eve Mass to join him in visiting his free-thinking radical girlfriend Maud (Françoise Fabian), an attractive divorced doctor with a young daughter. Vidal tells Jean-Louis they are now just friends and he thinks she would be a perfect match for him even though they have opposite philosophies. After a few hours of booze and talk, especially about what attracts the engineer to Pascal and what turns him off. When the talk grows tired, Vidal makes his exit and goes to his nearby residence. But since it’s snowing and Jean-Louis lives far away in Ceyrat, Maud insists he stays overnight. Though disagreeing on religion and other cultural issues, there’s a physical attraction between them as they have a long conversation while alone in her bedroom with her under the covers. What is going through the head of Jean-Louis, is that he spotted at the Sunday Mass a beautiful student he never met before, Marie-Christine Barrault (Françoise), and made a vow he would meet and marry her. It’s his intention to stick to that vow even while being seduced and liking the seduction. The tension rises as to how will the night end, as Jean-Louis fights off the temptation to have what he considers to be a meaningless affair. While most males in the audience would see nothing wrong in getting an easy lay, a one-night stand, and still pursuing their dream girl.

The indie black-and-white pic became a surprise box office hit, and was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Language Film.