REVIEW: Conversations in Rohmer Vol. 2 (Le genou de Claire, 1970)

"Conversations in Rohmer" is a three-part discussion held between myself and kiddo in space (who shares a name with my Final Fantasy XI character, coincidentally enough) as part of The Corrierino's Welcome to the Abyss thread run by Philosophe rouge and LEAVES. The premise: partners select a director with whose work they are both unversed - in this case, Éric Rohmer - then select and view three of that director's films. Following each viewing, a conversation is held via private message so to prevent veteran viewers of the director in question from weighing in from a more experienced vantage.

kiddo: Le genou de Claire, I must say, I liked it a lot more than La collectionneuse. I remember you saying in our last conversation how there was something about La collectionneuse that got you into it but you didn't know exactly what it was, I understand now. I got carried away by it. What was it? Characters? Themes? Situations? Maybe all of them.

Here we are with another of Rohmer moral tales, and now we are presented witha twisted sense of morality coming, mainly, from Jerome and Aurora. They start this game were all the other characters get into without knowing. Jerome starts playing with Laura's feelings, falling in "love" with her, she's attracted to him and Jerome is attracted to her, but it's all for the sake of providing Aurora with a story. Then, about half way through the movie, we get Claire... and her knee. 

Soon Jerome forgets about Laura an focuses his attention to Claire. I find this "relationship" two quite interesting. Jerome just wants to touch Claire's knee, he desires her, but only for that nothing more. It's just physical attraction. 

During this game there's one important element, love. Maybe is part of the moral tales, but this film is also a study of love. Physical attraction, friendship, its nature, etc. All of this is discussed and shown along the film: Aurora and Jerome are friends, but seem to have been in a relationship, the merely physical attraction to Claire's knee, Laura initiation (to put it in a way) in love. 

Now into morality... Jerome playing with the girls, just like in that story involving the tennis ball, and even trying to end the realtionship Claire had just to get what he wanted AND thinking he did something good to her. Aurora, starting all these games with Jerome just to get a good story to write. Lack of morality or a twisted one?

tom: I, too, picked up on the study of attraction's nature. What I found most interesting, and actually laugh-out-loud funny as well, was how Jerome interacted physically with the women. As intended by Aurora like you indicated, these girls seem playthings for Jerome. He takes no issue firmly and familiarly taking their forearms in his hands or draping his arm around their shoulders. To an extent it even seems that he enjoys playing with Laura because the idea of an attractive young girl crushing on him is more than enough to intrigue him. Yet... when true attraction (even if it is sheerly lust) is felt for Claire, he becomes anxious and worried about carrying on his practices with her and even becomes jealous and threatened by the other males around him.

I also felt the mention of Don Quixote being made to believe he was flying into the sun by having a torch held over his head while blindfolded was telling of many things to come. Not only are the girls obviously being blindfolded to Aurora's intentions, but I would say Jerome is blindfolded as well, sort of coasting through life, letting his surroundings make decisions for him and not worrying - or not realizing - how those decisions reflect on him as a person. He even goes as far as to criticize others for things he is absolutely a culprit of himself. I would say there's almost no question he is unknowingly opening his own eyes with his ultimate encounter with Claire as opposed to opening hers. His rationalization to Aurora is that he was fully aware of the real situation all along and he is proud of his actions - even prouder than usual for seeming to have learned something - but his rationalization is more a self-manipulation than anything else.

Rohmer certainly does create complex characters! I feel his characters are approached from a very objective point, too. We're not supposed to "like" any of them, really. Perhaps we will empathize in certain situations but more than anything, we learn. Incidentally, the absence of narration did not seem felt much, since Jerome says everything he may have directly to we viewers instead to Aurora to a nearly identical effect.

Aesthetically, Le genou de Claire works from a somewhat more vibrant color palette than La collectionneuse, but I didn't find it visually superior to that previous moral tale. Where Rohmer has abandoned traditional narration, he seems also to be experimenting with a more mobile camera. The characters move more and the camera follows them, as opposed to the more stationary situations in La collectionneuse. That said, I did like the callback of La collectionneuse's porch-through-open-French-doors shot, which was one of my favorites. Additionally, I wonder why Rohmer works in 4:3. It did work surprisingly beautifully in La collectionneuse but I kept finding myself wanting a wider ratio here.

All said and done, I greatly prefer La collectionneuse to Le genou de Claire, but this one was quite good as well. I might have liked to see more of the Laura character even after she was relegated to the background, since I found her youthful naïveté regarding her perspective on men interesting.

kHis characters are quite complex indeed, and very well constructed. It looks like his movies are completely about them. For obvious reasons I can't say he does this with all his movies, but some times, directors tend to be quite constant. The characters seem to be there to prove a point, the movies is as much about them as it is about people. I see Rohmer charaters as a reflection of real people behavior, you said it perfectly when describing Adrien in our past conversation, how we tend to act like him. Here we can also see human tendencies, this time how we manage love an relationships, but not only that, it's also a study of relationships itself, putting together what creates a relationship (friendship, attraction, love) in one event. And Rohmer does it with such care, detail and subtlety, that it's just great.

tFrom a more subjective stance, how do you feel about Jerome? Honestly, he gives me the willies. Just scrubbing through the DVD for screencaps gave me a wobbly feeling in my stomach. Okay, maybe that was the 4 pounds of hamburger I ate... but still, he's icky. When he planted a beardy smooch on Laura in the mountains I felt my skin crawl. I found it very interesting when Laura was describing her distaste for men her own age... she was basically describing Jerome but her proverbial blindfold prevented her from realizing it. She chalks her romantic interest in him up to a longing to fill the void left by her absent father. When Jerome goes along with that, even if it may be just for the sake of Aurora's story, it just makes him that much creepier. And the intent way he was rubbing the titular knee? Blegh!

Actually, on a less creepy note, I get the impression Rohmer himself has a leg fetish. In La collectionneuse, the shot of Haydée rubbing her legs in the shallows oozed subtle sexiness, and it is obviously taken further here as the knee obsession drives Jerome for nearly half the film.

Speaking of Claire, she reminded me in a sense, particularly during her introductory scene, of Ludivine Sagnier's Julie from François Ozon's Swimming Pool. Considering this and, more generally, the type of storytelling Rohmer utilizes (at least in these moral tales), I wonder if Rohmer has had an influence on Ozon (from whom I've only seen Swimming Pool and 5x2, both of which I loved). The proceedings' catalyst being an author's writer's block makes me wonder more specifically if Le genou de Claire directly influenced Swimming Pool. I also feel like I caught Match Point and Cassandra's Dream vibes in there... Woody Allen must be a fan.

kJerome made me uneasy during the scenes he had with Laura, although I'm not sure if he did it for a real attraction or just for the sake of Aurora's game. This, of course, doesn't make his action less wrong. I find his relationship with Claire quite different and more honest than the one with Laura, here he felt real attraction to her, he even felt jealous and had a different attitude. Jerome and Claire's relationship really interests me. He wasn't playing with Claire, the attraction are totally unexpected for him. He just want to touch her knee, just that, not sex (maybe) or a relationship, that's what I found interesting. pure and simple attraction, nothing more, but why? That's the question.

I haven't seen anything from Ozon, but Swimming Pool sounds good. I'll check him out later.

t: I suppose there may indeed have been more to the Claire relationship than any other relationship Jerome experienced over the month the film covers. My gut reaction, though, was that touching the knee was just as good as sex for Jerome.

Simply judging from the two films we've taken in thus far, it would seem Rohmer likes to place his characters apart from traditional reality. They're always on vacation, attempting to set their "real" lives aside. Are they likely to do less rational, thereby more interesting things on these vacations?

k: Maybe it's because during vacations we often step apart from our routine, we do different things, this is a good time for things like this to happen. Maybe such things wouldn't happen during our daily lives since we are surrounded by familiarity and the everyday doings (like work, school, etc.). The surroundings tend to modify the behavior, that may be a reason for the settings.

t: I certainly agree there! It's safe to say Rohmer is two-for-two with us, although where you preferred Le genou de Claire I preferred La collectionneuse. On to L'amour, l'aprés-midi to round out our trio (although I'm sure it'll be far from my final Rohmer, considering the quality thus far)?

k: Yes!

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