Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Claire's Knee" is Man's Obsession

Cleveland Press August 30, 1971

"Claire's Knee" is the kind of movie that once made the terms "foreign film" and "art film" synonymous.

It is a movie that falls well outside the mainstream of motion pictures. Written and directed by Eric Rohmer, it is an exercise in intricacies, a series of philosophical arguments within a very narrow field; a purely problematical script rather than one that follows traditional plot development.

The work comes narrowly close to being a bore except that Rohmer moves everything along so blithely and with a fair degree of wit.

The movie is about a 35-year-old Frenchman (Jean-Claude Brialy), a diplomat vacationing for a summer on Lake Geneva. He runs into an old friend of his, a woman who is a novelist and who is staying with a family that consists of a divorced woman and two teenage daughters.

He and his old friend talk a great deal in a movie that is more clearly talk than action. He is engaged, about to marry the woman he has been living with for the last six years. No, they are not at all alike, but he is certain they will be happy. He protests about this overmuch throughout the picture.

The novelist at the moment is unattached and is frank about her ideas concerning men. The conversation is a strange mixture of moralizing tinged ever so slightly with the erotic.

She has problems working out a story and she asks the man if he will be her guinea pig. He says that one of the girls, Laura, is fond of him. Will he take it from there?

He is engaged and his affairs are behind him (he protests) but he is willing to relate conversations and action to the writer. Nothing happens, incidentally, but along the way he catches sight of the other sister, Claire.

Claire is completely involved with her boyfriend. The aging, experienced Frenchman is curiously obsessed with her knee. I think it was the left, but it turned out to be the right later on, so maybe it was both.

The idea sounded either silly or sick, but in "Claire's Knee" it is neither. The movie is not about fetishism, and it isn't really about sex.

It is about youth and jaded age, about people caught up in an ever narrowing circle of fewer and fewer ideas.

Rohmer somehow makes it work. He creates a feeling for his people, makes their seemingly silly conversations dramatic. His is a movie completely concerned with nuances.

The picture is helped greatly by the handsome color photography of Nestor Almendros.