Six Moral Tales:
“We trifle when we assign limits to our desires, since nature hath set none”
- Christian Nevell Bovee
As the decade of the 1960s ended Eric Rohmer was more than halfway through his group of films refered to as Contes moraux (Six Moral Tales). The fourth of these (third in order of production) was the classic Ma Nuit Chez Maude which is among my favorite films of all time. Rohmer followed this with a discourse on desire titled Le genou de Claire (Claire's Knee). While this does not resonate with me the way Chez Maude did it is a powerful and evocative film.
Rohmer's films invariably concentrate on intelligent, articulate protagonists, who nevertheless frequently fail to own up to their real desires. The contrast between what they say and what they do fuels much of the drama in his films. This is true in Claire's Knee as the protagonist Jerome, at the instigation of his writer friend Aurora, manages to flirt with a teenage girl and then reach the brink of desire with her sister Claire. What impressed me most was the power and suspense that Rohmer was able to build into the climactic scene where Jerome caresses Claire's Knee. This scene reminds me of the power of Hitchcock who could build suspense and horror without showing the actual act of murder. It is no surprise that Rohmer had collaborated with Claude Chabrol on a study of Hitchcock earlier in his career. The impact of the discussions of Jerome's desire with his friend Aurora and his momentary brush with the culmination of that desire is tremendously moving. As in his other films Rohmer's tendency to spend considerable time in his films showing his characters going from place to place, walking, driving, bicycling, or boating is evident in Claire's Knee. His flirtation with Laura occurs while hiking in the mountains and the climax occurs when his kindness in giving Claire a ride into town is interrupted by a rain storm. The contrast of serious discussion and the wide open expanses of nature (almost every scene is outdoors) adds to the appeal of the film and suggests that Jerome, who is headed off to be married, and Claire who is reconciling with her boyfriend Gilles at the end are indeed doing what nature intended.