Claire’s Knee: Eric Rohmer
“Why would I tie myself to one woman if I were interested in others?” says Jerôme, even as he plans on marrying a diplomat’s daughter by summer’s end. Before then, Jerôme spends his July at a lakeside boardinghouse nursing crushes on the sixteen-year-old Laura and, more tantalizingly, Laura’s long-legged, blonde stepsister, Claire. Baring her knee on a ladder under a blooming cherry tree, Claire unwittingly instigates Jerôme’s moral crisis and creates both one of French cinema’s most enduring moments and what has become the iconic image of Rohmer’s Moral Tales.
Eric Rohmer, 1920–2010
He was a literature teacher, a novelist, a magazine editor, and a film critic, but Eric Rohmer, who has died at the age of eighty-nine, will be most remembered, of course, as a filmmaker. And the legacy that Rohmer the auteur leaves behind encompasses even more than just his own formidable body of work; the term Rohmer-esque has been unofficially part of the film lexicon for some time now, most often used to describe philosophical, spare, dialogue-driven films about relationships between men and women (Rohmer’s style can be seen in the work of directors from Arnaud Desplechin and Olivier Assayas to Woody Allen and Richard Linklater). His best-known films of this realist sort include those in the series Six Moral Tales, Comedies and Proverbs, and Tales of the Four Seasons, although Rohmer was also a fascinating formalist when it came to period pieces, whether in his intentionally artificial interpretation of an Arthurian legend, Perceval (1978), or in his technically progressive take on the French Revolution, The Lady and the Duke (2001), an early film to utilize computer-generated imagery for its backdrops.
Rohmer’s career, which has woven its way from the French New Wave to the digital revolution, has brought joy to movie lovers for six decades, and will undoubtedly continue to do so. In this short clip from a 2006 interview, available as a supplement in Criterion’s Six Moral Tales box set, Rohmer discusses with Barbet Schroeder the unique philosophical sensibility he brought to world cinema.