Eric Rohmer was the last of the team gathered around the magazine Cahiers du Cinema who decided to switch from film criticism to filmmaking, and along with his colleagues Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard, he is today considered one of the key authors of the French New Wave. He is best known for his six stories about morality, that is, six films in which he deals with an identical theme in which the center of attention is a man, married, engaged or in a long-term relationship, who is tempted because he is attracted to another woman. That man here is thirty-something year old career diplomat Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy) who, before his wedding, decided to go on vacation to the lake in the Alps where he used to spend time in his youth.
The action is set there in a month from the end of June to the end of July and the narrative “Clara’s knee” is told in the style of a diary, and unexpectedly he will meet there an old friend, the writer Aurora. She, on the other hand, went to the lake in search of inspiration for a new book, and settled in the villa of a typical French bourgeois family of more or less middle class. He will thus meet Jerome through Aurora and her landlady, Mrs. Walter, and then her teenage daughter Laura, who will fall in love with him. But a few days later, Laura’s slightly older half-sister Claire will appear there, a beautiful young brunette who will completely enchant Jerome.
So even though Jerome claims that he is no longer interested in other women, he doesn’t really act like that and flirts with every lady and lady he meets, whether she is a teenager or a grandmother, and his obsession with having to touch Klara’s knee will haunt him until the end of the summer. At the same time, Aurora will fill his head with all kinds of ideas, and Aurora will see his “tortures” as an interesting inspiration for a new book, and the fact that the beautiful Claire, unlike her half-sister, does not perceive him at all, seems to deepen his desire to give her like it. And to somehow manage to realize his plan, to caress her knee. And with this seemingly simple film, Rohmer confirmed that he is perhaps the unsurpassed master of making films that cynics would say are about nothing. However, bringing to the surface some feelings, impulses and thoughts, as a rule, buried deep in the subconscious, is what Rohmer is most interested in, especially in that first phase. So even though Jerome is obviously a vain and smug guy who is impressed by the fact that a teenage girl like Laura fell in love with him in such a youthful way, he tries to analyze everything that is happening around him and what to do in such a situation.
It is a typical Rohmer dialogue film, told precisely from the perspective of the main protagonist, who considers himself a rational and realistic guy, and he likes to talk for a long time about what he thinks about and even about topics that most people keep to themselves. And practically all the characters she meets are the same and they engage in long conversations with Jerome, all except for the young, long-legged and challenging girl who is always with her boyfriend and that sweet-talking older charmer for her as if he doesn’t exist. Along with “My Night at Maud’s” made a year earlier, “Claire’s Knee” is probably Rohmer’s best-known film, and this new wave filmmaker is an eternal inspiration to countless later authors.
Let’s just look at the filmography of Woody Allen, who for decades made films very similar in style to what Rohmer did and often dealt with the same themes. Among the modern auteurs, there is the favorite of the festival juries, the Korean Hong Sangsoo, who produces such small, seemingly simple films in bulk, and there is also a whole host of French filmmakers for whom Rohmer is an undisguised role model. Although at first the story of a middle-aged guy who will become obsessed with a teenage girl may sound quite controversial, especially in today’s circumstances, Rohmer is one of those authors where there is not even an iota of corruption. Everything we see here is actually a reason to continue the thematization of morality and he is more interested in rationalizing his characters for their behavior than the behavior itself.