Years ago, Eric Rohmer wrote the story, “My Night at Maud’s,” one of his Six Moral Tales, before he filmed it. In my opinion, the film gets boring; the written story, for all its dialogue, does not.
Seldom in his oeuvre did Rohmer make as many references to Catholic, or Christian, faith as he did in “Maud’s.” The Michelin engineer (unnamed), living in Clermont-Ferrand in France, befriends for a short time the beautiful divorcee, Maud. He also necks with her a bit despite being a Catholic who believes he is destined, or predestined, to marry a fellow Catholic named Francoise. Resistant to having sex with Maud, the engineer nevertheless makes the mistake, on a dangerously snowy night, of lying down next to Maud on her bed for an night’s ordinary sleep. Maud’s mistake is putting her arms around the man and pressing her body against his.
Still, no sex.
And then there’s Francoise. Gradually the matter of forgiveness pops up: Will the engineer forgive Francoise for a particular amatory-sexual sin? The themes that emerge in Rohmer’s story are spiritual playing-with-fire, perfidy in severe and mild forms, and the challenges to chastity. It is a successful Christian tale which I don’t believe should have been made into a movie, unlike another moral tale, “Claire’s Knee,” which is okay as a movie.
Nanni Moretti is a fine artist whose Italian film, The Son’s Room (2001), is a largely well done, sometimes brilliant, work about intense grief over the death of a couple’s adolescent son. The parents—Giovanni (a psychiatrist) and Paola—and their surviving daughter are in a tailspin, with Giovanni finally deciding he cannot be both disconsolate and guilt-feeling and a psychiatrist. Although the chronicle is a little thin, constantly shifting to Giovanni’s work with his patients, the film is sobering and smart (and not without humor). Plus it’s persuasively acted by Laura Morante, Moretti, et al.
Moretti is unsympathetic to clergymen, though. Or is Bert Cardullo right that the director-writer looks askance at the thinking of people in “a post-religious age”? The conclusion of The Son’s Room does seem ambiguous, not about life’s continuum which causes Giovanni and Paola to laugh, but about a salutary acceptance of death in the secular-minded.
(In Italian with English subtitles)
Military pride and victory, battlefield suffering, religious conviction, and death in all its pervasiveness all meet in the Julien Duvivier film, La Bandera (The Flag, 1935), whose gritty screenplay Duvivier and co-scenarist Charles Spaak adapted from a novel.
The picture concerns a Frenchman called Gilieth who murders a man in Paris (“a piece of crap” he calls him) and then runs away to Barcelona, where he is unemployed and hungry. In order to survive, he joins the Spanish Foreign Legion, though not without a clandestine Spanish detective on his trail. All the legionnaires, Gilieth included, volunteer to fight in the Spanish Civil War, and an agonizing, disastrous experience it is. Can there be—is there—the acquisition of honor in this?
The French actress Annabella, who was married to Tyrone Power, has top billing in this film (she plays an Arab girl whom Gilieth marries), but she is not the star. Jean Gabin is, satisfyingly cast as the one-time murderer. . . La Bandera is now creaky and obstreperous, but also vivid and candid. I would say that at first its attitude is misanthropic, but eventually it does see Gilieth as acquiring honor as it puts a measure of faith in men on the battlefield, as it necessarily respects human risk and endurance. At least the Spanish detective seems to see Gilieth as acquiring honor (or expiation).
(In French with English subtitles)