An Evening at the Cinema: Claire’s Knee

Of the films Sheila and I saw at the cinema in last week’s Sineng Pambansa Iloilo Film Festival 2012, we liked Eric Rohmer’s Claire’s Knee the best.

Unlike most films that we usually see, Claire’s Knee shuns the standard plot-based, fast-paced, action-packed, or suspense-filled formula popularized by Hollywood.

There’s not much of plot in Claire’s Knee. It opens with the French diplomat Jerome spending his holidays in his ancestral home located beside some lake in France after many years spent abroad.

The diplomat is getting married soon and is there to find buyers for his property. He goes around by pumpboat, like Zizek in the Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, and accidentally meets his former lover Aurora while cruising in his boat.

Aurora, a literary writer, would talk Jerome into becoming a gineau subject for a story that she is unable to finish. She introduces Jerome to the family hosting her stay in the area. This is how he meets the teenager Laura, who flirts with him, and her older sister Claire with whom he falls head over heels for.

“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,” said Jerome.

He eventually gets to touch it, thus fulfilling his fetishist desire. But just that. Nothing else seems to happen. The film would end with Jerome leaving the country for his marriage without initiating any other serious attempt to prey on any of the two girls.

None of the usual slapstick from Hollywood romantic comedies on one hand or the dreary soap operatic melodrama on the other hand. Claire’s Knee instead focuses on the characters, their attitudes and views on love, friendship, and relationships as shown in the dialogue and their gestures.

We liked the microscopic emphasis on the way the characters act – their look in the eye, the touch on the shoulders, their facial expressions, how they played with their hair – as they interact with each other.

I am personally fond of Aurora’s conversations with Jerome, which makes for an incisive commentary on the relationship between authorship and fictionality, of how writers fashion their fiction out of seemingly shallow events from everyday life.

Ultimately, the scenario envisioned by Aurora in line with her unfinshed story’s plot, that of Jerome playing around with the young girls before his marriage, would fail to materialize.

Susan Sontag once observed that “the reduction of cinema to assaultive images, and the unprincipled manipulation of images (faster and faster cutting) to be more attention-grabbing, have produced a disincarnated, lightweight cinema that doesn’t demand anyone’s full attention.”

Claire’s Knee’s subtle contradictions, its slower pace and many pauses, and its deceptive simplicity makes it a film that deserves our full attention and reflection.

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