5 July 2009 | ddx-5
Choderlos de Laclos revisited (and softened) by Rohmer
In "les Liaisons Dangereuses", Isabelle de Merteuil defies Sebastien de Valmont to deflower Cécile de Volanges, a young girl, then to seduce and to reject Marie de Tourvel, a married woman. If he succeeds in accomplishing it, the bounty will be Isabelle herself.
Nothing as harsh in "Le genou de Claire", but there is the similar thematic about a gamble. Jérome (Jean Claude Brialy) meets Aurora (Aurora Cornu), an old friend (lover?). Aurora, a writer, is in search of a new story for a possible novel. She offers Jérome a gamble in the form of a love game ("marivaudage" as we say in French) involving Laura (Beatrice Romand), his neighbors daughter, who is obviously attracted by him, and, later, the Laura's sister Claire (Laurence de Monaghan) whose knee fascinates Jérome.
Unlike "The Dangerous Liaisons", not a single ounce of violence or dramatic events, everything will be just metaphorical: a half-stolen kiss and a stroked knee (and no excessive promised reward from Aurora). "Le Genou de Claire" is a filmed essay about friendship, love, sensuality, desire, fantasies and their incoherences.
As usual with Eric Rohmer, thoughts and emotions have to be said and not just shown, therefore everything is explicitly said by the characters. This is the reason why the Rohmer's movies seem unrealistic and talkative to the unprepared audiences. Some say that Rohmer is a writer who uses a camera instead a pen, but that primacy of the dialog doesn't prevent Rohmer to use the actor's play, the camera, the set's and costumes colors in a very accurate way. In fact, he is a real film director with a very personal style of cinematic language.
The cast: A Jean-Claude Brialy bearded like a pirate plays a charming young diplomat and he delivers his lines with natural ease and a sensual chemistry between him and the beautiful Aurora Cornu (a Romanian poet, novelist, and actress). Unfortunately the Romanian actress doesn't seem at ease with those long lines in French, and, in my humble opinion, she overplays quite a bit.
Beatrice Romand, 18 years old at that time, in her first true part in a movie, plays the 16 yo Laura. She steals the show, the light and the camera, and in view of some mind-blowing shots, for example in the Jérome's room, she seems to have been an obvious delicacy to light up for the great master Néstor Almendros, in charge of the cinematography. When the movie was released in 1970, the French medias became suddenly obsessed for a while by this very young actress, her exotic beauty and riveting charm. The clever and fizzy Béatrice appeared everywhere in the magazines and on the 2 (not more than two in 1970!) channels of the French TV! Then the fame faded away. The industry of entertainment prefers the blonds... The Beatrice's fans (I am a Beatrice's fan!) love Rohmer's "Le Beau Marriage", "Conte d'Automne" and Claude Faraldo's "Themroc", a situationist weird movie.
Laurence de Monaghan, in contrast with the dark haired and milky skinned Beatrice Romand, plays Claire, a tanned blond of cold beauty, in fact a perfect arrogant and stuck-up chick with perfect body, legs and knee, the famous knee, object of Jérome's desire.
For the fans of Fabrice Luccini, his short part as the young Vincent pontificating about girls is a "collector", not to be missed! By the way, still for his fans, not to be missed too there is his hilarious (and sulfurous) part in Walerian Borowczyk's "Contes Immoraux" (Immoral Tales) 2 years later. Keep in mind that "Le Genou de Claire" forms a part of Rohmer's "Contes Moraux" (Moral Tales)...
Time has passed, "Le Genou de Claire" remains amongst the Rohmer's most sensuous movie, and Claire's knee keeps on fascinating.