This week as a response to Mulvey’s Film Theory I thought it would be interesting to examine a film steeped in the concept of the male gaze Claire’s Knee written and directed by Eric Rohmer. The film is essentially a study of male desire and borderline pedophilia. It is steeped with sexual tension, and Rohmer clearly places the viewer into the position of a voyeur.
The film begins with a man named Jerome on vacation at a lake in France. While there he is reacquainted with an old friend, a woman named Aurora who is a writer. Also vacationing by the lake is a common aquaintence of Jerome and Aurora, Madame Walter and her daughter Laura. As the story progresses Jerome begins to develop an excessively close relationship with the fifteen-year-old Laura. As Jerome and Laura’s relationship progresses Aurora becomes interested in the dynamic for her next novel. Aurora then asks Jerome to keep her updated on the twos relationship. However, upon the arrival of Madame Walter’s second daughter Claire Jerome’s focus shifts. There is a significant change in the film once Claire arrives, all attention shifts as the camera begins to shy away from Laura and refocus on Claire.
This is really when the narrative begins to take shape, as Jerome’s desire becomes completely fixated upon Claire’s knee. In one scene Claire is on a ladder collecting fruit from a tree when Jerome first takes notice of her beautiful knee, and the camera cuts to a POV of his gaze focused upon it. The simple act of focusing upon the knee without the girl’s knowledge creates a hyper-sexualization of a rather tame portion of the female body. Claire becomes solely an object of Jerome and the viewer’s desire. Jerome turns into a voyeur longing for her knee, but rarely engaging with the girl, instead he often just looks at her from a distance.
The culmination of the film occurs when Jerome offers Claire shelter from the rain just after having told her that he witnessed her boyfriend cheating in a local town. Claire is of course sobbing from the traumatic news, and as the two sit under a shelter across from one another the scene is charged with sexual tension. The fascinating part about the scene is that Claire is oblivious to the air of sexuality present, however it is very plain to Jerome and the audience. We clearly are connected to Jerome’s desire, (the male desire) within the scene. Claire and more importantly her knee are the entire focus of the heightening level of lust. The precedence set earlier of Jerome’s attraction to the girl’s knee makes your gaze constantly drawn back to it even during wide shots. As Jerome makes his move slowly and assertively placing his hand onto Claire’s knee there is a build up and release of tension. The viewing experience in itself becomes a sexual act, almost a perversion because Rohmer has successfully exploited the male desire to such a high degree.
It must be assumed that Rohmer was familiar with Mulvey’s theories, and possibly created this film as a response to the ideas themselves. Regardless, the film can be viewed from two different perspectives; on one side it may be simply a work of male chauvinism, a voyeuristic story about a man with a knee fetish. On the other hand, it may be a statement about the objectification, by manifesting on the screen how abhorrent, and senseless the male obsession with the female body can be. It shows just how carnal humans are.