Tag Archives: manipulation

Claire’s Knee (1970)


“At the same time, it was my good deed.”

In my teens, I was lucky enough to see my first-ever foreign films–Belle de Jour (Luis Bunuel), and Claire’s Knee (Eric Rohmer). Both films were a major revelation to me, and both films triggered a life-long love of French cinema.

Claire’s Knee (Le Genou de Claire) is film 5 in director Eric Rohmer’s Six Moral Tales series, but it is not necessary to watch the other films in the series to make sense of Claire’s Knee. However, Rohmer films are really only for the serious French film aficionado. Rohmer’s critics charge that his films are pretentious and boring, and while it is true that Rohmer films are not noted for their action sequences, nonetheless, I find his films fascinating and re-watch many of them when I have the chance. Most of Rohmer’s films are full of conversations between characters, and if you find the characters interesting, or if the issues they face intrigue you, then you may enjoy Rohmer films. However, if you dislike one Rohmer film, you will probably dislike them all. And no one seems to be blase on the subject–he’s a director whose films you either love and rave about or you loathe and avoid.

Rohmer seems to have an obsession with French people on holiday, and Claire’s Knee is not an exception to that. In Claire’s Knee, 35-year-old diplomat Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy) visits his holiday home located near the French-Swiss border at Lake Annecy. He is preparing to sell the property prior to his upcoming marriage to long-time girlfriend, Lucinde. Here Jerome meets writer and long-time acquaintance, Aurora (Aurora Cornu), who is staying with a female friend and her 2 teenage daughters, Laura (Beatrice Romand) and Claire (Laurence de Monaghan). Aurora professes to be in the midst of a struggle with a fictional character–an older man who is obsessed with younger girls. Jerome makes a strange bargain with Aurora, and he agrees that he will encourage Laura to fall in love with him. Aurora claims that observing the relationship Jerome has with Laura will help her solve the plot difficulties she is experiencing. Is Aurora’s interest in encouraging a relationship between Jerome and Laura motivated by dispassionate intellectual curiosity as she claims, or is there something darker afoot? And why does Jerome agree to indulge Aurora?

But Laura, in spite of her youth and inexperience, possesses a charming wisdom that unnerves Jerome, and then Laura’s half-sister Claire arrives. Claire is much less introspective and appears to be more experienced. Jerome discovers that Claire “troubles” him with a “real and undefined desire,” and he quickly becomes obsessed with the idea of touching Claire’s knee.

Jerome plays a strange game. On the one hand, he’s getting married to Lucinde because their long-standing relationship has never dulled–in spite of the fact that during a confession to Aurora, Jerome admits that both he and Lucinde have ‘strayed.’ Jerome argues that he doesn’t “look at women any more,” and the sense is that Jerome has now decided, at age 35, to ‘settle down.’ Passion seems to have little to do with it, and while Jerome professes disinterest in all other women, there’s a subtle hint or two that he wouldn’t exactly be averse to a holiday fling with Aurora if she felt so inclined. Aurora, on the other hand, makes one or two slight but significant comments about Jerome’s relationships with women.

Aurora delicately avoids any physical entanglement with Jerome and instead appears to be intrigued with him as a ‘character’ in a literary sense. Explaining that characters have their “own logic” Aurora maintains that in a novel sometimes what doesn’t happen is as interesting as what does happen. The idea of the interest in non-action is never clearer than in Rohmer’s films. In Claire’s Knee the fascination with the non-occurrence is carried out with sheer perfection, and the interest remains in the question–‘what actions will a character take in a certain situation?’ Rohmer is a very prolific director, but the languorous film Claire’s Knee remains one of my very favourites. Keep an eye open for a very young Fabrice Luchini in the role of Vincent, Laura’s boyfriend.

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Filed under Eric Rohmer, Fabrice Luchini, France

Poison Friends (2006)

 “Why do some people write?”

Poison Friends concerns a group of young French university students who are, to various degrees or another, impressed, awed, influenced and duped by the charismatic, intelligent and domineering Andre Morney (Thibault Vincon). The film begins in a large lecture hall in a literature class led by Professor Mortier (Jacques Bonaffe). As with all classes, many personality types are enrolled, but on the very first day, Andre Morney sticks out. Professor Mortier asks for a volunteer to conduct a presentation, and Morney leaps to the podium without hesitation. Confident, domineering, brash, and egotistical, he manages to make all the other students in his immediate circle feel somehow inferior. No matter the situation, Morney always manages to set himself up as the judge, the superior, the more experienced.

poison friendsMorney’s attitude works in several ways on his crowd of friends. He convinces one friend to become an actor, and in this situation, Morney’s confidence seems to work like osmosis for Alexandre (Alexandre Steiger). The graduate students in Morney’s circle are all working on papers, and several of them have literary ambitions including Eloi Duhaut (Malik Zidi), the son of a famous novelist (Dominque Blanc). If Morney even sniffs that one of his friends has literary ambitions, then this just becomes an excuse to belittle and humiliate the would-be writer. Morney’s favourite lecture–which he doesn’t hesitate to give to his friends–is to castigate those who have literary ambitions. To him the question ‘why we write’ is followed by the answer because we are ‘weak.’

Most of us have known some manifestation of a Morney character in our lives. If we are lucky, they are unmasked before they can do much damage to themselves or to their circle of friends. The Morneys of this world can be dangerous figures or just sad. In Poison Friends, Morney is depicted as a character who thrives in academia where his BS is largely undetected until it’s time to actually produce. The film’s setting is therefore perfect for this tale. We are able to see Morney’s manipulations and his pathological need to always assert his superiority–even when the evidence screams otherwise. In French with subtitles, Poison Friends is directed by Emmanuel Bourdieu.

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Longford (2006)

“If you start off with that pious mumbo jumbo I’ll jump across this table and bite off your tongue.”

The Moors Murders committed in the 1960s by Ian Brady and his girlfriend Myra Hindley, are some of the most horrific child murders in the history of British crime. These notorious murderers lured, tortured and then killed their young victims, and even made tape recordings of a 10-year-old victim’s ordeal. The film Longford traces the relationship between the incarcerated Myra Hindley and Lord Longford, then a cabinet member in Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s government. Director Tom Hopper avoids the sensationalistic and more gruesome aspects of this notorious case and, instead, presents a fascinating psychological, character driven drama that explores the issues of rehabilitation and redemption.

The film begins in 1987 with Longford’s attendance at a call-in radio programme where he’s confronted by outraged callers who demand to know if he has any regrets about his relationship with Hindley. The film then flashes back to 1967 when Longford (Jim Broadbent), a well-known advocate of prisoners, and a firm believer in rehabilitation, is first approached by convicted murderer, Hindley (Samantha Morton) in her bid to secure parole.

Most of those who know Longford accept his position regarding prisoner rehabilitation, but as far as his family and the general public are concerned, he crosses the line in his relationship with Hindley. Longford, a fervent christian who has converted to catholicism, believes that everyone and every sin can be forgiven. So befriending Hindley represents a test of his religious commitment. Although initially daunted by the prospect of meeting this notorious killer face-to-face, Longford is pleasantly surprised by Hindley. He expected a monster, but instead discovers a demure, quiet young woman. He’s delighted, therefore, when over time Hindley expresses an interest in returning to the catholic church, and claims that it is due to Longford’s influence. Longford’s uncomfortable encounters with the demonic Ian Brady (Andy Serkis in a chilling performance), however, raise questions about Hindley’s sincerity.

The Moors Murderers were the first male/female serial sex killers in Britain, and while it was accepted that a man was capable of such acts, many people expressed incredulity that a woman was involved. One of the theories was that Brady forced or coerced Hindley in some way, and some evidence at the trial in conjunction with Hindley’s subdued, obedient behaviour certainly reinforces that argument, and she claims that she was led astray by Brady’s forceful personality. Various reformers see Hindley as a model prisoner while Brady is seen as a monster. Does Longford, who believes fervently in forgiveness and redemption, see only what he wants to see? Ian Brady delights in evil, and shows no remorse whatsoever, but is Myra a different case?

The film, which is excellently acted, makes a strong statement about the role of ego in the redemption of another, and Longford is portrayed as a naive man whose life of phenomenal privilege leaves him unprepared to deal with the dark side of human nature. The DVD includes a short feature with some details and archival footage concerning the murders. Directed by Tom Hopper

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Filed under British, British television