Monday, June 14, 2010

Cleo 5 to 7

Agnes Varda's Cléo 5 to 7 (1962) is the story of, Florence "Cléo" Victoire (Corinne Marchand), a French pop singer who is awaiting the results of a recent medical test. For ninety minutes we watch beautiful Cléo dance on the razors edge between life and death as she waits to find out if she has cancer.

Varda chose to not only depict this slice of life, but capture the city of Paris itself. As Cléo moves about Paris from 5 to 6:30 as she waits to meet her doctor at 7, Varda shows Paris in a clinical way, almost as if she was shooting a documentary. This concept and style was used frequently by other directors of what was called La Nouvelle Vague. (The most famous being Jean-Luc Godard in his film Breathless.) But what separates the cinematography of this film from that of a documentary, is Varda and her eye. She was a photographer first and foremost and her talent turns the humdrum of Paris street scenes into something beautiful and alive without any of the contrived Hollywood sensibility. Her technique also reinforces the idea that even in film, the world moves on with or without us, which interrupts the idea of make believe we're so used to in cinema.

The ninety minutes this film lasts begins as a study in existentialism as Cléo meets with friends all the while grappling with topics such as mortality, the idea of despair, and leading a meaningful life. Cléo unfortunately finds most of the people closest to her, treat her with a kind of indifference upon learning of her possible diagnosis. Overcome by loneliness and fear she abandons her life and goes for a walk alone. Thus begins the inner journey and evolution of Cléo.

Cléo, now alone, goes from spoiled vapid childlike doll who doesn't seem to have the depth to deal with her fate, to being strong independent person who suddenly realizes the great depths of human existence. Eventually, Cléo ends up in a park were she meets a soldier whom she is able to have what she feels is the first sincere conversation she's had all day. The stranger then accompanies Cléo to the doctor so she can receive her diagnosis.

Agnes Varda's Cléo 5 to 7 is also one of the few films of the New Wave to have a strong feminine point of view. The film is bold for taking on the subject of feminine identity and how women are perceived in the world, especially given how much of a masculine boys club the French film community, particularly the New Wave, was at the time. It is also very interesting to see how the the pop star/starlet was viewed five decades ago and how contemporary the portrait still is today.

Cléo 5 to 7 also includes cameos by Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina, Eddie Constantine and Jean-Claude Brialy as characters in the silent film Raoul shows Cléo and Dorothee, while composer Michel Legrand, who wrote the film's score, plays "Bob the pianist".

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