Claire's Knee Review

Jérôme (Jean-Claude Brialy), a diplomat, is about to get married. He takes a short holiday near the Lake of Annecy and bumps into his old friend Aurora (Aurora Cornu), a novelist. Aurora is on holiday with her daughter Laura (a very young Béatrice Romand, who went on to be a Rohmer regular with lead roles in A Good Marriage and Autumn Tale) and stepdaughter Claire (Laurence de Monaghan). Jérôme insists that, due to his forthcoming marriage, all thoughts of romance are behind him. But the charms of the two sisters are difficult to ignore...

Claire's Knee (Le genou de Claire) was the fifth of Rohmer's Six Moral Tales. The others are listed under "similar releases" and have all been reviewed for DVD Times. As with almost all his work, Claire's Knee has a “miniplot”: the emphasis is not so much on what happens, but what is going on the characters' hearts and minds as it happens. The characters’ conflicts are internal ones. This is expressed largely through dialogue. Rohmer's films are more tightly structured than they appear: apart from a scene between Jean-Claude Brialy and Fabrice Luchini under a tree, nothing was improvised. Needless to say, if you're after fast-moving action you should look elsewhere. It's fair to say that this is one of Rohmer's less eventful films, but given a receptive mood it has considerable charm. Attractive locations are certainly easy on the eye, but they aren't allowed to overwhelm the dialogue and the uniformly excellent cast. Rohmer treats Jérôme with less overt irony than he does many of his protagonists (the male ones especially). It's a mark of Rohmer's growing confidence as a filmmaker that this is the only one of the Moral Tales entirely to dispense with a voiceover. (Chloe uses one only in its prologue.)

Nestor Almendros's trademarked natural-light photography used Gauguin as a reference for the solid colours and two-dimensional landscapes around the Lake of Annecy. Unfortunately this gives very soft results on this DVD transfer. Claire's Knee was one of Fox Lorber's earliest Rohmer DVDs, and it's fair to say that there has been some improvement since. There is a fair amount of speckling on the print, which otherwise appears to be in good condition. Artefacting is absent, but picture-wise this DVD is only adequate. The film was shot in 4:3, and that's what you get on this disc.

The soundtrack is the original mono, and heavily dependent on dialogue which is at least clearly recorded. The disc has twenty-six chapter stops according to my player, though the menu has only nine. Extras are very basic. The cast and crew list is redundant if you can read French (though the credits on the film itself don't have character names). The filmography for Rohmer is complete up to 1996. The awards list is restricted to two: National Society of Film Critics Best Film of 1969 for this film, and an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay for My Night at Maud's.

As before with a DVD like this, it's the film that counts and for minority-interest films like this that's reason enough to buy it. But as a DVD package, it's par for the course for this distributor, and no more than adequate.

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