English Title: Claire’s Knee
Original Title: Le genou de Claire
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Director/Writer: Éric Rohmer
Cinematography: Néstor Almendros
Laurence de Monaghan
After a dispiriting encounter with THE COLLECTOR (1967), the fourth number of Rohmer’s SIX MORAL TALES, I feel elated that the fifth entry CLAIRE’S KNEE has rekindled my passion in Rohmer’s body work, his superlative insight as regards self-boosting pretension over real agenda inward has reached a high-point in this basically nothing-has-happened miniature.
A high-flying diplomat Jérôme (Brialy) has returned to Lake Annecy to sell his family house, one month prior his wedding, he will marry the woman who he has an on-and-off relationship over 6 years. By sheer chance, he meets his old friend, the novelist Aurora (Cornu), who has lodged in Madame Walter’s (Montel) lake house at the foot of the mountain nearby, to finish her latest novel.
While the two reminisce about the past and update each other with information of the intervening years, Aurora is slightly agape to know that Jérôme decides to tie the knot, in her view, he is not a marrying type, but Jérôme claims that he and her fiancée has reached a perfectly and mutually understanding phrase – an open relationship as long as there is nothing too serious to undercut their marriage, which implies that two-timing is not a problem at all.
Later Aurora introduces Jérôme to Madame Walter and her teenage daughter Laura (Romand), who, strikes up a crush on Jérôme. Aurora is stuck in writer’s block, so Jérôme volunteers to be her guinea pig, to explore the situation with Laura, then reports back to Aurora with all the details. Laura is genial, precocious, coruscating with contradictory ideas (the love/dispute relation with her mother, bored/fascinated by the picturesque scenery), she is not afraid to admit her feelings for Jérôme, but when the latter attempts a wet kiss, she brushes him aside, teases that she wants to be totally in love, not with a soon-to-be-married man, yet the truth is that she will embark on her study in Britain, sooner than Jérôme’s due date.
Jérôme enjoys Laura’s company, takes her mountain hiking and riding in his motorboat, tries to cop a feel when timing is proper and fails epically, but how can any man not lap up the gratifying feeling of being the receiving end of a teenage girl’s passing fancy?, although Laura’s candid sophistication is something saps him of any further actions. However, before soon, Laura is no longer his main focal point, because Claire (de Monaghan), Laura’s slightly older half-sister, a sultrier blonde arrives, so is her boyfriend, a muscle-showboating jock Gilles (Falconetti). Jérôme involuntarily develops a fetish for Claire’s knee, tender, smooth and immensely arousing for his taste, he confesses to Aurora, and takes the ultimate task: to touch Claire’s knee under her full consent.
So, obviously Gilles is the weak point to achieve his mission, expressing to Claire that she can find someone much better than Gilles is a stock line from a sour man who is not even qualified for competition, but insidiously avenges to break up a seemingly matched couple on a shaky pretext, it doesn’t work usually, as the heart wants what its wants, there is always some behind-the-closed-door magic potion can retain a relationship, so who would take an onlooker’s subjective opinion seriously, especially he is a total stranger? However, Jérôme seizes a golden opportunity, dismantles Claire’s defence by aiming her Achilles heel, a young girl’s intuitive insecurity, and he accomplishes his task, almost grotesquely surreal, during those time-still minutes, a whimpering Claire glances at Jérôme, whose hand is continuing rubbing her knee, she seems baffling but doesn’t care to stop since it seems to be an innocuous gesture, still, in the eyes of a beholder, a latent sexual tension has reached its breaking point.
In Jérôme’s self-satisfactory version, his act is bold but meritorious, not only he fulfils his primal desire, it is also beneficial for Claire, to save her from the hands of a philander, so, he leaves with triumphant brio to his approaching wedding. Aurora stays, and in the end, from her eyes, we see what happens afterwards between Claire and Gilles, it is a far cry from what Jérôme has envisioned. It is all mapped out under Rohmer’s masterplan, one’s shallow and subjective vision versus what happens in reality, most of time, we are prone to feel conceited by our own judgment and perception, yet, most of it is indeed a fanciful illusion, a bubble masterfully bursts under the strikingly scenic palette and a spare cast.
The acting is above-par, a heavy-bearded Jean-Claude Brialy effortlessly alternates between a welcoming rapport with an amateurish Aurora Cornu (the Romanian-born French writer, who visibly glimpses into the camera many a time and inclines to speak her lines with eyes zooming in on the floor, but those tics doesn’t impede the narrative, on the contrary it renders a vérité feel), an engaging and heart-to-heart communication with the newcomer Béatrice Romand, and his voyeuristic limerence with an attractive but vapidly uninterested Laurence de Monaghan. Told in a style of visualising diary entries in a one-month span, CLAIRE’S KNEE is mostly about talking, and talking could be tedious or overbearing, or sometime both, it all depends on who’s talking, and how do the repercussions pan out, here Rohmer has found his feet and to say the least, the film is an undeniable acme in Rohmer’s awe-inspiring oeuvre, a significant cultural legacy bequeathed to all mankind.