Dir: Steven Soderbergh



Richard Koszarski: Film Comment, Summer 1972, Volume 8, Number 2, pages 27-29

Director: Yasujiro Ozu
Writer: Yasujiro Ozu, Kogo Noda
DP: Yuuhura Atsuta


Director: Steven Soderbergh                                                                                                                                                      Writer: Lem Dobbs                                                                                                                                                                           DP: Ed Lachman


Director: OZU


Title Card "Le Genou De Claire"

Title Card "Claire's Knee" (1970)

“In a film, the power relationship is reversed: the direction is king, the text subservient.  A film script is in itself of little or no consequence, and mine is no exception to that rule.  If it seems to resemble literature, the appearance is deceiving; it is rather a yearning for it.”  — Eric Rohmer, preface to ” Six Moral Tales”

Revered for his exquisitely probing dialog Eric Rohmer’s highly advanced mise-en-scene is something rarely evaluated.  Working with frequent collaborator Nestor Almendros on the fifth installment of his Six Moral Tales, Claire’s Knee, Rohmer directs with a lightness of touch to appear nearly effortless.  Of course, this is not the case.

The story revolves around Jerome (Jean-Claude Brialy), who is spending three weeks in the Alps of Haute-Savoie (eastern France) while waiting to be wed.   The scene we’ll look at is quite simple.

A brief summary leading up to the scene:  At the start of the film Jerome runs into an old friend, Aurora, a novelist, living in Tallories.  Aurora, knowing the old Jerome to be quite the lady’s man, is tempted to test his fidelity.   She introduces Jerome to nearby neighbors Madame Walter (Michele Montel) and her 14-year-old daughter, Laura (Beatrice Romand).


July 3rd: Jerome and the three ladies are having drinks and a light conversation outside. This ends with young Laura and her mother getting into a minor disagreement.  Laura sulks off.   Aurora, sensing opportunity, sends Jerome off to console the her.

Jerome approaches through the woods in a wide shot.


Rohmer pans to the right to reveal Laura sitting along the shore, feeding swans and crying lightly.


Jerome reenters, crossing the frame, positioning himself to right of Laura, their backs to us.


It’s clear that Jerome, even without Aurora’s goading, is intrigued by the precocious Laura, a keenly conscious girl, wise beyond her age.  (A testament to Romand’s talent & Rohmer’s scripting/directing).

We cut in closer, to a medium, of Jerome, still from behind; he looks out at the landscape:


He asks Laura if this is her secret place.

“Yes, when people upset me,” she replies.  She speaks of her relationship with her mother, of how she’s misunderstood, while acknowledging that her mother truly does love her.

We cut to a reverse of her, again, medium shot.  The camera hovers just above her — albeit not from Jerome’s prospective — emphasizing youth & vulnerability.


When we cut back to Jerome we find the camera is now positioned directly in front of him.  (We also get a glance at the verdant hillside and a cabin behind.)  Jerome ensures Laura of her mother’s loyalty.


While speaking he sits, the camera tilting with him as he does.


As the conversation continues Rohmer opts to pan from left to right from Jerome to Laura.

Laura relents the fact that no matter how much they (she & her mother) disagree she will always be her mother.  She concedes running off was childish.  She inquires what her mother said after her departure.


Jerome relays that her mother thought Laura’s disgruntlement may lie in the fact that she was not allowed to go to Corsica with friends.  (Her mother thinking she is too young.)  Laura disagrees…


And then, suddenly turning on a dime, she complains of Haute-Savoie being “stifling.”   She pops to her feet, the camera tilting up with her as she does.

“When I’m bored I’d rather be anywhere but here,” she says.


Cutting back to Jerome this time we find him in stark contrast to the feisty Laura:


Laura agrees with him that it is beautiful, “but sometimes I feel smothered.”  Jerome turns and stands, the camera, once again, tilting up…


…then panning right to form a two-shot of both actors.


Jerome suggests that they go hiking.  Laura excepts the invitation.

“You have to get away now and then,” she says.

To that Jerome extends his motto:


“Exactly,” says Laura in concurrence as she exits the frame.  Jerome follows.

We end were the scene opens, the wide shot, as they both exit.  Laura coquettishly running ahead then falling back to take Jerome’s hand.


The last shot of the sequence is another wide, further back towards the house; the wind blowing the trees and overgrown brush.  Laura breaks away from Jerome and playfully frolics off-screen.  Jerome walks simply after.


With both out of frame Rohmer holds on his almost painterly composition for another beat.


For a scene rife with dialog we see much is going on here.  On close inspection we find Rohmer panning, tilting, and virtually circling around his characters, all while directing our attention to the conversation.  This is one of Rohmer’s greatest traits, his lightness of touch.

Here Rohmer relies primarily on medium shots to move; creeping any closer to the characters would break uniformity.  Mood shifts must be genuine in the acting.  What also can be noted is the repetitive camera movements whose patterns lure you into the atmosphere.  There are three pans to the right & three tilts (one down, two up).  It is an unfair assessment to think Rohmer simply placed a camera down, in a beautiful setting, and watched his characters speak.  His camera is in constant movement.  Yet it’s the simplicity of movement that reflects attention.

Almendros’ mastery of handling natural locations also cannot be taken out of the equation.  This goes well beyond simply framing up a picturesque shot.  Almendros’ talent was finding the shot that was at once beautiful but also natural within the environment itself.  The compositions here do not call attention to themselves individually–the subject is almost always the centerpiece–but instead, through their sum total, radiate the beauty & essence of said locale.  Rarely is photography like this seen in cinema.

And as much as this scene is about the spoken word it is what is not said which is important.  Underlying the scene is the fact that Laura may have ran off because she had just discovered that Jerome was engaged; childishly reveling her crush on him.  In lesser hands this would be a subject of discussion but with Rohmer his confidence lies in his ambiguities.

It’s interesting to watch Laura in constant oscillation between young woman and little girl.  One moment she’s crying, the next confident and defiant.  Yet there’s an image here that sums her up perfectly: the establishing shot of her along side the swans as Jerome approaches.  Reminding us that she is indeed a very young & innocent girl, despite her feisty intelligence, she recalls one of the sweet, unspoiled youths Renior would have painted.   (Although it is noted that Rohmer saw the film in a “Gauguin-esque” style)


Laura recalls one of Renoir's young girls


Young Girl with a Basket of Flowers. Pierre Auguste Renoir

And if Laura is defined by the shot along side the swans it is easily understood why Jerome will soon be entranced by the titular knee of Claire: provocative, modern.


Lastly, it is impossible to analyze Rohmer without some mention of dialog.  The final exchange between Jerome & Laura is quite telling.  Laura says, “you have to get away now and then.”  To which Jerome responds almost identically with, “Lovers have to get away from each other now and then.”  Laura’s statement speaks of an individual while Jerome’s speaks of being in relationship.  The core of The Six Moral Tales is a pilgrim’s progress; a man weathering the storm of temptation to reach his love.  Each is an odyssey in their own way.  None end in the “happily ever after” but in an echo of Odysessy’s words to Penelope, “Wife, we have not yet come to the end of all our trials.”

Ending his preface to the “Six Moral Tales” (in book form) Rohmer asks, “why be a filmmaker when you can be a novelist?”  I have no answer to this question.  But I do relish the fact that Rohmer had a choice & chose cinema.