Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jean-Claude Brialy, Aurora Cornu, Béatrice Romand, Laurence de Monaghan, Michèle Montel, Gérard Falconetti, Fabrice Luchini
Written by: Eric Rohmer
Directed by: Eric Rohmer
MPAA Rating: PG
Language: French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 106
Date: 12/01/1970

Claire's Knee (1970)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Thinking Cap

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ah... Claire. I wonder how many men have fallen for her strange, girlish, yet aloof charms after forty years dwelling in the dark aisles of the French art house? Even today, she's the movie's centerpiece, its one piece of beauty untouched by the ages while all the other characters look like silly hippies, ill-dressed in bad, tight clothes and too much hair piled in all the wrong directions. I have no idea what happened to the actress Laurence de Monaghan, who apparently retired from movies, like many of director Eric Rohmer's non-professional actors, at the end of the decade. (She must be in her mid- to late 50s by now.) But here she's forever young, forever poised on that ladder, picking cherries and entrancing the hero Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy) with the crook of her knee.

Jerome is on the verge of marrying and has returned to his hometown during the summer months to take care of some unfinished business. He runs into an old writer friend, Aurora (Aurora Cornu), and meets the family she's lodging with, including the teenage Laura (Béatrice Romand -- in her first of six movies with Rohmer), who develops a crush on the older man. At the whim of Aurora, who wishes to use Jerome as a kind of guinea pig for her latest novel, Jerome tries to seduce Laura, though it means nothing to him. An hour into the film, Laura's stepsister Claire turns up; she's bony but alluring in a bikini. She's also hanging all over her tactless boyfriend Gilles (Gérard Falconetti), so she and Jerome pay very little mind to one another. It's only when Claire climbs that ladder that Jerome notices her knee, and despite his impending marriage, entertains an overwhelming desire to caress it.

Claire's Knee was the fifth in Rohmer's "Six Moral Tales," and like many of his other films, he breaks up the passages with journal entries; this refers to the writer Aurora who is a kind of puppet-master to the proceedings, but also to the idea of a novel on film. Yet Rohmer shoots in luscious color (with the aid of champion cinematographer Nestor Almendros), beautifully capturing the natural exteriors: mountains and water, sunshine and rain. This natural conflict makes a perfect physical accompaniment to the characters' battle of intellect versus sensuality. The performances are quite lovely, and despite their constant chatter, the characters come alive without seeming too intellectual or too removed. Next up was Chloe in the Afternoon. The Criterion Collection released all six films in a deluxe box set in 2006.

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