Monday, November 07, 2005

Claire's Knee

1970, France, directed by Eric Rohmer (original title: Le Genou de Claire)

One of Rohmer's best-known films, Le Genou de Claire exemplifies in many ways both the strengths and weaknesses of his approach to filmmaking. It's an especially garrulous talk-fest - the characters do little else - which is capable of considerable insight and occasional wit, but Rohmer's films are often set in an especially insular world (like the Manhattan of Woody Allen movies), which of its nature is intellectually exclusive, while it's often difficult to suspend one's disbelief at the blatantly artificial set-up. Jean-Claude Brialy plays a diplomat spending the month prior to his marriage on holiday alone - there's a scenario drawn from reality! - and while relaxing he catches up with an old friend, perhaps a former lover, who's a novelist. He spends his days 'befriending' a teenage girl and, later, becoming somewhat infatuated with her willowy, slightly older sister. His every move is recounted for the benefit of his writer friend, who goads him to more action (something the viewer might well appreciate, since his moves consist mostly of lengthy conversations). While there are scenes when, unexpectedly, all this hangs together and becomes quite compelling, Rohmer seems remarkably tolerant of some pretty poor acting, with lines delivered as if they're being read from cue cards (which wouldn't be surprising, given the large chunks of text the characters are required to deliver). As a director, he's clearly fascinated by cinema as a narrative medium, but has relatively little interest in the purely visual aspect of storytelling: the story is reminiscent of an epistolary novel, set in a very hermetic world, where other Rohmer films are a little more expansive, and considerably more charming.

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