Claire’s Knee

I found this movie fascinating right from the start, all the way to the end, but I can’t really pinpoint what’s so great about it. There isn’t much plot, just a lot of humanity and intelligence. I’m not sure I could say that it’s a philosophical film, but it’s at least poetic. Like a good book, it fills you up more with details and character than with action. “Le Genou de Claire” was written and directed by Eric Rohmer, a French director from the Nouvelle Vague who specializes in movies which deal less with what people do than with what is going on in their minds while they’re doing it.

We meet Jerome, a rational and lucid man who goes back to the house where he spent his childhood, on a lake between France and Switzerland. He’s spending a month there supposedly to sell it, but we suspect it is more to rest before he marries Lucinda. Soon after his arrival to the gorgeous valley, he runs into Aurora, an old friend whom he hasn’t seen in a while. She’s a novelist in need of inspiration, and Jerome kindly agrees to be his guinea pig. She’s staying with a divorced woman and her daughter, and she wonders what would happen if a man took a liking in the 16 year old Laura. She happens to have a thing for Jerome, and he agrees to try and see where that could lead, in a platonic fashion of course. So he starts spending time with her, enjoying the landscape and discussing. And then things diverge slightly when Laura’s sister Claire comes back home. Jerome finds himself feeling strong desire for her, desire that climaxes in her knee, which he longs to caress. But she’s infatuated with her cocky, arrogant boyfriend and after all, Jerome sincerely loves his fiancĂ©e…

From this premise, you could form a conventional film, have the characters interact, probably throw in a complex love story and various twists. But that’s not this kind of film. Jerome remains faithful to his future wife, not by obligation, but because he knows rationally that it wouldn’t serve him or even please him to fool around with any of the young girls. The film is about how Jerome and Aurora dissect what is and what could be, and select a course of action. These are people who have thought and discussed long about friendship, love, desire, relationships between men and women, happiness, leisure and such things. And even though she’s young, it’s visible that Laura will grow up to be that type of staid person with a clear view of what’s good for her. She might not be as hot as Claire, but she’s certainly more mature. Eric Rohmer might be one of the most literate of filmmakers, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t a very skilled director. “Claire’s Knee” is filled with simple but beautiful imagery, and the cast is uniformly great. The film takes its time but never feels slow. Few movies this brilliant feel this natural.