A title and a film to cherish. The fifth in Rohmer’s series of six Moral Tales, Claire’s Knee covers a month of full summer at Lake Annecy in the French Alps. Away from his rather severe-looking fiancée, a 35 year-old diplomat (Jean-Claude Brialy) encounters a female Romanian novelist friend (played by the writer herself, Aurora Cornu), who encourages him to flirt with an amiable teenage girl at whose lakeside home she is staying. When his attentions divert to the pretty but disinterested 17 year-old step-sister, he fixates on the eponymous feature.
As in his previous, equally assured masterpiece My Night with Maud- indeed, as throughout a prolific and consistent career spanning the six decades since he and fellow “Cahiers du Cinema” critics Godard, Truffaut and other New Wave stalwarts turned director – Claire’s Knee is a lucid analysis of temptation, moral choices and the fine details of relationships, all delivered with a gosssamer dexterity.
Where Maud’s crisp black and white was instilled with a cool wintry precision, Claire’s Knee captures the essence of summer with the agile grace of a swallow. Cinematographer on both films, Nestor Almendros delights in the warmth of the season, the lush vegetation and the gorgeous blues and greens of the setting, which once captivated the painter Cezanne.
A typically deft and wholly cinematic Rohmerian blend of insightful observation, generous humanism, delicate visual touches and sophisticated dialogue (though the director’s sophistication invariably exceeds that of his characters), the film gently punctures the protagonist’s tendency to condescension by exposing to the viewer realities of which he is blithely unaware. The concentrated eroticism of the moment when he caresses the specific object of his desire is astonishing for both its circumstances and also an understatement which shames Hollywood’s ludicrous grandstanding.
Filled with deeply satisfying sensual and intellectual pleasures, Claire’s Knee has retained all its charm and freshness; as seemingly ageless as its ever-youthful creator.