Claire’s Knee arrived on DVD with a couple other films last April, which shows how quickly I get around to DVDs from Netflix any more. About 8 years ago I constructed an absurdly long queue of films I thought I should see–auteurs, foreign films, arthouse pretense–anything I read about or which was recommended by people I regarded as trustworthy I put on the queue.
And Claire’s Knee was amongst the dregs of that nearly depleted list. It’s sort of like a late-phase Henry James novel, like The Wings of the Dove–where some characters conspire to use another character, but for the purpose of Art rather than Love (maybe The Sacred Fount is a more apt comparison?). But there’s a lot of Lolita too, which makes viewing Claire’s Knee rather uncomfortable at times. A bearded mid-thirties lothario returns to his childhood home on a lake in the French Alps. He wants to sell the old manse and return to Stockholm and marry his fiancee. He runs by chance into an old friend from Paris, a writer who boards in a large house with a single mother and her daughter. The writer suggests to the lothario that he try to seduce the daughter to see what happens; this will help the writer complete her work. He’s resistant, but then he’s game, and then things are wrecked when the daughter’s step-sister comes home and the lothario falls for her and her really cute knee. It’s a mildly funny examination of the complete difference between teens and folks of a certain age, and how they are dissimilar species in many ways. Our hero likes to believe himself impervious to young flirts, he’s too rational, educated, and mature for such diversions any more. When he realizes the truth about Claire’s amazing power over him he takes a vicious and pointless revenge, showing how small-minded and selfish he is.
I should explore more Rohmer. I’ve seen Chloe in the Afternoon, and also really like that one.
Antichrist is a cute meditation on modern marriage. A couple are confronted by the accidental loss of their toddler son, who climbs out of his crib and onto a table and out an open window of their high-rise apartment while the couple are having rather vigorous sex with wild abandon. The husband–Willem Dafoe–is a counselor or therapist of some sort who takes it upon himself to treat his wife after her grief cycle proves “uncharacteristic.” That’s not all that proves uncharacteristic about her, and director Lars von Trier creates his own little art-house take on Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead by moving the action to a cabin in the woods. There are mysterious happenings. Nature is fecund mix of life and death and dispassionate awareness. The wife had previously done thesis work at the cabin, but had abandoned it. During therapy she reveals that her study of male oppression of the Feminine during the 16th century witch trials led her to believe it was necessary. Whatever knowledge the men were terrified of at the time, whatever steps they took to destroy midwives and shamans and healers, she now believes was not simply the ignorant violence of a blooming patriarchy trying to assert itself. Chicks are at heart evil, they are part of Nature, and therefore Satan’s playthings. Dafoe at first argues with her, but then she gets all medieval on his ass. There are hints that their child’s death was perhaps not quite so accidental after all, and that there are two sides to her nature. Then there is genital mutilation. It’s all quite charming, and filmed like a gorgeous dark music video out of Scandinavia. Von Trier doesn’t shy away from an intimate display of violence, but does spare us a grand finale re-do of the Bacchae…
I can’t help but think watching these two films back to back is significant. Both are about the weakness of men when confronted by the Feminine, and how even modern, intellectual men seek to justify their oppression of women. Both are interesting, but only one is a good film. The other is, despite its shock potential, a bit silly.