Arguably Rohmer’s most iconic ‘moral tale’—the plot of an older man’s fetish for a teenage girl’s bare knee makes for great philosophical musings about the nature of lust and love.
Dir. Eric Rohmer
1970 | France | Drama | 106 mins | 1.37:1 | French
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for mature theme
Cast: Jean-Claude Brialy, Aurora Cornu, Beatrice Romand, Laurence de Monaghan
Plot: On lakeside summer holiday, a conflicted older man is dared to have a flirt with two beautiful teenage stepsisters despite his betrothal to a diplomat’s daughter and the fact that the girls have boyfriends.
Awards: Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Golden Globes)
Source: Les Films du Losange
Subject Matter: Moderate – Love, Lust, Fetish
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
The image of an older man staring intently—if only a brief few seconds—at a teenage girl’s bare knee with the desire to caress it might reek of perversity, but under Eric Rohmer’s Midas touch, the fetishistic shot, arguably one of the director’s most unforgettable, becomes a fascinating conduit in which the nature of lust and love is explored.
It makes for great philosophical musings—the fact that the titular character only comes into the film nearly halfway through also suggests Rohmer’s confidence in his material, that a casual ‘sighting’ can trigger an unfathomable impulse, one that changes how Jerome, the soon-to-be-married man in question, might navigate his desires against those around him who wish for something from him that they can elicit.
“Every woman has her most vulnerable point. For some, it’s the nape of the neck, the waist, the hands. For Claire, in that position, in that light, it was her knee.”
For example, Aurora, his novelist friend and ex-lover, hopes for tantalising material from Jerome’s experience managing his lust. Meanwhile, Claire’s younger sister, Laura (Beatrice Romand in a memorable turn—she would return most invitingly in Rohmer’s A Good Marriage (1982) where she won Best Actress at Venice), has an infatuation with Jerome, deepening his engagement with the moral aspects of his predicament.
Some might see the film as perverse and illicit, considering how ‘woke’ people are today about inappropriate gender relations, but they are mostly missing the point.
This is an intellectual treatise (as opposed to a carnalist’s wet dream) on a problematic subject matter rendered unproblematic through its deconstruction. Claire’s Knee could be Rohmer’s most iconic ‘moral tale’, and still is one of his finer films in his oeuvre, shot around the incredibly picturesque Lake Annecy.