9. Claire’s Knee (Éric Rohmer, 1970)
As part of the BFI’s recent retrospective of Éric Rohmer’s films, Rohmer was described as the most enduring master of the new wave, and there is much truth in that description: he may have taken longer than many of his contemporaries to come to the party, (only making his first films long after Godard and Truffaud had achieved global fame) but once there he produced a consistently beautiful body of work that is perhaps unsurpassed by any other new wave filmmaker.
Claire’s Knee may be the definitive Rohmer movie. Like many of Rohmer’s masterpieces, such as Le Rayon Vert (The Green Ray) and Conte d’hiver (A Tale of Winter), its story is slight, indeed almost negligible: a middle-aged man falls in love with a young woman, and in particular finds himself fascinated with her beautiful knees. The strange nature of this fascination is summed up by the image on the original poster, showing the man staring up at the young woman as she ascends a ladder. At first glance, it appears that he is looking up her skirt, but then it becomes apparent that he is actually transfixed by, of all things, her knee.
From this slight, even bizarre, premise, Rohmer fashions a typically masterful film (luminously shot by the great Spanish cinematographer, Néstor Almendros) about romantic obsession, as the man first flirts with Claire’s younger sister before realising that it is actually Claire (and her remarkable knees) that are the real object of his desire.