Éric Rohmer’s fifth film from the cycle Six Moral Tales, which received top prize at the St Sebastian Film Festival, could be called the director’s confession of his love for literature, revealed through a series of plot twists.
Rohmer was a brilliant connoisseur of French literature, as much as a film director and theorist. Not surprisingly, in Jacques Rivette’s famous thirteen-hour-long film OUT 1, and its shortened version Out 1: Spectre, Rohmer was given the role of a Balzac expert, as he was a specialist in the oeuvre of Balzac in real life as well.
Claire’s Knee is a loose adaptation of a short story from the collection Contes moraux by the French writer and philosopher Jean-François Marmontel, which the name of the whole cycle’—Six Moral Tales—also refers to. The film, however, has one other literary prototype—the well-known epistolary novel Dangerous Liaisons by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, which Rohmer playfully interprets by turning its plot upside down.
The hero of the film is a middle-aged diplomat and intellectual named Jerome (Jean-Claude Brioly) who considers himself an expert on love affairs and is planning to “quit”, having selected a decent bride. Not long before the wedding, though, he meets an old female friend during vacation in the Alps—the writer Aurora, who is looking for a plot for her next novel. Aurora introduces Jerome to the two young daughters of the villa owner, where she has found her writer’s solitude, and keeps a close eye on Jerome as he becomes more and more involved in relations which at first seemed merely a play. The writer is always there, ready to fuel the flame of his desires that will provide material for her book.
Claire’s Knee is different from the rest of the films in the cycle by the absence of internal monologues—in Rohmer’s opinion, helping to liberate cinema from theatricality and bring it back to literature which he thought was closer to film, than theater. At the same, this is a great example for analyzing Rohmer’s plots, always implying the theme of desire, through the lens of psychoanalysis.
Before the screening, psychoanalyst Viktor Mazin will give his lecture “Éric Rohmer, the Psychoanalyst”.
Director Éric Rohmer. France, 1970. 105 minutes.