Claire’s Knee (1970)

“Every woman has her most vulnerable point. For some, it’s the nape of the neck, the waist, the hands. For Claire, in that position, in that light, it was her knee.”

Claire

Synopsis:
While on vacation near the Swiss border, a soon-to-be-married diplomat (Jean-Claude Brialy) runs into an old writer friend (Aurora Cornu) who’s boarding with a divorced mom (Michele Montel) and her teenage daughter Laura (Beatrice Romand). Laura quickly develops a crush on Brialy, who flirts back innocently in return; meanwhile, when Laura’s blonde step-sister Claire (Laurence de Monaghan) arrives, Brialy develops an irrepressible urge to caress her knee, and is encouraged by Cornu to find a way to do so.

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Review:
Claire’s Knee — the fifth installment in Eric Rohmer’s sextet of “Moral Tales” — is, like its companion films, focused on exploring a young male’s dalliance with temptation, and how he eventually resolves this temptation within himself. Here, Jerome (Brialy) is engaged to be married, but, egged on by an old friend (non-actress Cornu is perfectly cast), decides he might as well spend his last summer of “freedom” testing the boundaries of his desires. Indeed, Brialy’s friendship with Cornu has an air of Dangerous Liaisons to it, with romantic dares posited and enacted, then discussed with delight in the aftermath; in this case, however, Brialy’s actions are relatively benign: his flirtation with Romand is welcomed and returned, and his attempt to “touch Claire’s knee” — while clearly not done with reciprocation in mind — is similarly mild. These days — in an era of hyper moral-sensitivity about “statutory rape” — a film in which an “underage” (16-year-old) teenager seriously considers an affair with a man twice her age, and nobody blinks an eye, is remarkably refreshing, making Claire’s Knee a pleasant, thoughtful diversion.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Jean-Claude Brialy as Jerome
    Claire
  • Aurora Cornu as Jerome’s novelist friend
    Claire
  • Beatrice Romand as Laura
    Claire
  • Cornu trying to trick Jerome into accidentally touching Claire’s knee
    Claire
  • Nestor Almendros’ beautiful cinematography of the French countryside
    Claire

Must See?
Yes, as one of Rohmer’s most celebrated films. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Claire’s Knee (1970)”

  1. A once-must, at least.

    Another one of Rohmer’s talky, talky films (as many French films tend to be) – which nevertheless sneaks up on you if you’re patient with it and rewards nicely, particularly with a number of intriguing observations on the complex nature of desire. It’s a rare film which – even if at times makes you wonder: ‘Does anyone really talk this way?’ – actually refreshingly explores in detail an often vaguely understood area of human nature.

    For me, the real heart of the film is Romand as Laura. Though young and facing the usual problems of a teenager, the character is loquacious, articulate and exudes a kind of open-book passion which counterpoints Brialy’s smoldering lust. (There’s reason enough to believe that his character’s denial of desire may be lip service – he kisses Laura in an uncalled-for way; as well, his ultimate ‘conquest’ of Claire’s knee – in a sensual rainstorm – becomes an unusually extended, oddly erotic sequence.)

    When Romand leaves the film for a long period, she’s missed; and a welcome sight when she returns. She has brought a vitality to the piece much like what Maureen Stapleton brings to ‘Interiors’.

    Speaking of Woody Allen…Claire and her boyfriend recalled for me the beautiful couple Allen meets on the street in ‘Annie Hall’. He tells them they look happy – they agree that they are – and when he asks how they account for it:

    Woman: Uh, I’m very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.
    Man: And I’m exactly the same way.

    An added plus here – as with any film he works on – is the exquisite work by DP Nestor Almendros.

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