Monday, August 22, 2011

Rohmer's "Claire's Knee", however talky, justifies its journey into fetish as a "morality play"


French New Wave director Eric Rohmer (who passed at 89 in 2010) is remembered for his “Six Moral Tales” (“Contex moraux”), which are maybe a little bit like a “Decalogue”  (Krzysztof Kieslowski), and the fifth of these films, “Claire’s Knee” (“Le genou de Claire”) sticks in my mind as a memorable eclectic title from the early 70s.

Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy), a 35-year old diplomat with just a little graying in the beard and starting to ripen (or look older), meets a novelist, Aurora (played by Aurora Cornu) while enjoying his last days of bachelorhood at Lake Annecy in the Alps.  To get material for a book, perhaps, Aurora “tempts” him with her daughter  Laura (about 18 or so), but the younger half-sister Claire (Laurance de Monaghan) enters the scene.  Jerome becomes fascinated with her, perhaps with an abstract crush, and Claire, while flirting with a handsome late teen boyfriend, talks about wanting romance only with a man old enough to fill a fatherly role.

The film, shot in a spectacular venue around the lake (reminds one of “Sound of Music”) continually talks, and gets into the distinction between friendship and love (a favorite topic of New Wave directors – like Jean Luc-Godard and “In Praise of Love”), and into how fantasy would obviate his need for any real life. Knowing he could get into trouble (and starting to look older in comparison to the teens around him), he retreats into preoccupation with fetish. In a climactic scene, he is caught with Claire out in the open in a violent thunderstorm, and after finding shelter and consoling her, satisfies his urge just to touch her knee. 

Of course, given the media preoccupations of more recent years (especially Dateline’s Chris Hansen), such subject matter might seem creepy today. But in this film, it’s all thought out and rationalized at a deep intellectual level.   It seems to justify wanting to live in a fantasy world, and even talking about things that are "just fantasy".  This was an issue during my own 1962 NIH stay (yesterday's post). 

The DVD is part of the Criterion Collection but was originally released by Columbia. Today, if it had a theatrical re-release, it would come from Sony Pictures Classics.


The DVD has a 16-minute short, “The Curve” (“La cambrure”) , directed by Edwige Shaki, who plays the young female model who captures the attention of art collector Roman (Francois Rauscher, who is quite breathtakingly handsome), who focuses on comparing his girl friend to art.  Andre de Debbio plays the sculptor, who reminds me of a friend I had in New York City back in the 1970s, sculptor Phillip Lamle. The film again gets into the idea of turning sexual fantasy into abstraction.  This sounds like one of those films that if, posted illegally from a copyright perspective on a website, would probably get “beaucoup” page requests, because of what is shown in it so explicitly!   As to the title, use your imagination as to what has a “curve”.  It’s not a baseball pitch.

The DVD also as a BW interview short, “Le journal de cinema”, where the actors from the feature are vetted. 

1 comment:

Ivona Poyntz said...

Saw this film recently; and you're right it is a bit creepy. I'm not against avante garde and enjoy Fassbinder for example, but rohmer is just too explicit with his tale of a lothario chasing young girls.