A Sexual Grail In “Claire’s Knee”

A girl’s knee becomes “a sexual grail,” as Stanley Kauffmann called it, for a French diplomat named Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy): He eccentrically longs to caress it. What he actually does, however, in executing this act is objectify the girl while thinking he is doing her a good turn.

Claire’s Knee (1970) is an Eric Rohmer film adapted from one of his stories which he identifies as “moral tales,” and, decisively, since it has to do with objectification it is a moral tale. And what is the good turn Jerome sees himself as doing? While fondling Claire’s knee, he tries to persuade her to give up her handsome but straying boyfriend, although this is not because Jerome wants Claire for himself. The diplomat is spoken for. However, he is also mistaken in thinking he has succeeded in his persuasion. The girl, unlike Jerome, wants the relationship to work. Indeed, in the end it doesn’t matter what the objectifier wants.

The picture is lovely-looking and pleasingly thoughtful, but it’s also Rohmer and thus very talky. A hundred and five minutes is very long for a garrulous film; tedium keeps fighting the artist’s noble purpose, notwithstanding I am prompted to cheer such a purpose. And—oh, well—I have no desire to discourage anyone from seeing Claire’s Knee. (In French with English subtitles)

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