It’s hard not to watch this film without acknowledging the very creepy power dynamic at its heart, as our bearded late-30-something protagonist Jérôme (Jean-Claude Brialy) arrives in Annecy on holiday before his wedding, where he bumps into an old friend Aurora (Cornu) and then proceeds to obsess over his friend’s landlady’s teenage daughters. To be fair Aurora encourages him in flirting with them, and he is a very strangely touchy-feely kind of guy, and it’s worth pointing out from the outset that nothing particularly untoward happens, it’s just that constant way he is always talking himself into action (or, as frequently, inaction) that puts one’s guard up. Then again, that’s really what you feel Rohmer is going for and if there’s one thing I’ve taken from this run of “Moral Tales”, it’s that Rohmer’s male protagonists are all pretty terrible, in their own ways. Jérôme’s particular problem is that he likes to analyse everything, and Aurora, who’s a novelist, likes to listen to him do this, and even encourage him a bit. Brialy is almost like a Woody Allen presence in a way, constantly commending himself on his own restraint while also talking up the potential outcomes, that could involve him romancing these teenage girls, Laura (Béatrice Romand) and then her sister Claire (Laurence de Monaghan), who to her credit isn’t interested in Jérôme at all. It’s a film ultimately about the power of storytelling itself, which may explain some of its enduring appeal — though the luminous colour cinematography by Néstor Almendros helps too — but the power dynamic between its leads remains offputting.
- Linked to Claire’s Knee, the third disc features a short film called La Cambrure (The Curve, 1999) which was made under the auspices of Éric Rohmer and displays plenty of Rohmerian feeling. It has the lead actor — who is also the film’s director and writer, Edwige Shaki — put herself into the context of European art by almost literally modelling herself on various paintings pictured in her art historian boyfriend’s flat. It’s witty and concise in its way of taking on these artistic ideas of women that are promulgated by men, along with a sly demolition of the boyfriend’s own motivations for getting into the relationship at the end. It’s slight, but likeable.
- Accompanying this film is a short interview segment from a French TV show in which Brialy, Monaghan and Romand all discuss working with the very private Rohmer (who did not of course appear). There’s a little bit about the making of the film, in the sense of Brialy telling of how far in advance Rohmer was doing his planning, but the rest is just descriptions of Rohmer and his working from his young actors.
- As well as the short film and the interviews, there’s also a trailer for the original release, and of course it’s just snippets of talking. Makes one wonder how it lured people in, but I suppose the audience of the time were more understanding of Rohmer’s style.
FILM REVIEW: Criterion Collection
Director/Writer Éric Rohmer; Cinematographer Néstor Almendros; Starring Jean-Claude Brialy, Aurora Cornu, Béatrice Romand, Laurence de Monaghan; Length 106 minutes.
Seen at home (Blu-ray), London, Thursday 13 August 2020.