Claire's Knee (Eric Rohmer / France, 1970):
(Le Genou de Claire)

The goatish gaze, the author’s theorem: "To be written, it must happen." The shapely structure is a transposition of Laclos with Nabokov echoes filtering through, Eric Rohmer sculpts it most sagaciously against the luscious greens and blues of Annecy in the summertime. Wolves and foxes "in transit" at the lake house, the cultural attaché (Jean-Claude Brialy) a few weeks shy of matrimony and the droll novelist (Aurora Cornu) who prefers discovering to inventing, one is a pawn in the other’s scénario. She has an unfinished narrative in need of a guinea pig ("a good story with banal characters"), he enjoys himself as the potential seducer of their host’s teenage daughter (Béatrice Romand) until one day he stares at the dimpled knee of a tawny gazelle (Laurence de Monaghan) and the knee all but winks at him. The appendage is now "the magnet of my desire," it must be fondled, a tantalizing caprice becomes a diplomat’s mission. "The turmoil she arouses in me gives me a sort of right over her." A constellation of flirtations, glances, smiles and fibs pulled together by Rohmer with an exquisite Lubitsch deadpan, his camera as warm as sunlight and cutting like a scalpel. The would-be roué speaks of fate and likens his situation to a leap off a mountain, yet his flossy verbiage is easily speared by the frankness and ardor of Romand's frizzy nymphet. (A sight gag involving a cup of juice held out above the aloof beauty’s lap, perfectly composed and edited, is not just another deflation of masculine control, but also, in its modest way, an illustration of why this is cinema and not literature.) The decisive caress finally takes place under a sudden drizzle, a blend of consummation, violation and consolation while the waters grow muddy (Renoir’s Picnic on the Grass). Don Quixote is still blindfolded at the close so the shimmering final view belongs to the women, any sense of smug conquest is simply washed away by a shrug and an embrace. Cinematography by Néstor Almendros. With Michèle Montel, Gérard Falconetti, and Fabrice Luchini.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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