Cleo From 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7) Reviews
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Agnes Varda's 'Cleo from 5 to 7' is the story of Cleo, a relatively unknown pop artist, with a few songs on the radio to her credit, who now faces the very real possibility that she might be suffering from terminal cancer. We follow Cleo in real time, wandering around Paris, waiting for the results of medical tests that will inform her (and the viewer) of her physician's fateful diagnosis.
Varda condenses Cleo's journey of anxiety from the two hours of the title (5 to 7) to an actual hour and a half. We learn from the documentary "Remembrances" (which can be found as part of the DVD extras in the Criterion Collection) that anytime a clock was shown during the film, it would accurately reflect the time elapsed in Cleo's journey.
The film begins with Cleo's visit to a Tarot Card reader who reinforces her belief that indeed the diagnosis will turn out to be cancer. Cleo's bad mood is made even worse when two songwriters (one played by a very young Michel LeGrand) come over and tease her as if she's a ten year old child. Cleo stalks out of her apartment and grows more self-absorbed (she plays one of her own songs on a jukebox in a café, expecting to get noticed by the patrons only to find herself ignored by them).
Varda focuses on Cleo's internal strife as opposed to developing any kind of compelling conflict between the quirky characters she encounters. For most of the film, Cleo is presented as shallow and narcissistic?it's hard to like her at all. Instead, Varda is content to draw us into the sights and sounds of a bustling urban landscape. The film is full of snippets of conversation including long forgotten news items (a gift from Khurschev to JFK is mentioned over the car radio) along with non-actors filmed eating their lunch as the fictional story unfolds before our eyes.
Despite a plethora of vignettes, there's very little story arc in 'Cleo'. For me, the ending was a bit of a cop out. After all the self-hatred, Cleo's mood changes from positively dour to semi-exuberant. All it takes is the companionship of sweet-talking Antoine, the soldier just back from Algeria, who knows how to 'treat her like a lady' coupled with her oncologist's terse pronouncement that two months of chemotherapy will make her into a new woman! How many people do you know who are positively giddy after being told that they're facing two months of chemo? Varda clearly wants all of us to give 'Cleo' a 'pass'. All the shallowness, the self-absorption of this character is nothing more than a portrait of a woman under extreme stress. Cleo is to be forgiven since she's 'not in her right mind'. Wouldn't you be having a 'bad hair day' if you were facing a cancer diagnosis? Varda doesn't want us to judge Cleo's book by its unhinged cover (remember, it's not REALLY her!).
More interesting than the film itself is the documentary "Remembrances". I found it fascinating seeing what the actors look like after all these years. It's hard to believe that the film's stars, Marchand and Bourseiller, had not seen each other since the making of the film back in 1961. You'll also get to see how much has changed (and how much as remained the same) in terms of the Parisian landscape over the years.
Cleo from 5 to 7 often feels more like a documentary than a fictional narrative. I marvel at the cinematography which appears to be way ahead of its time. But clearly 'Cleo' has been placed on an undeserved pedestal in the pantheon of art house fare. Without compelling conflict, Cleo falls back on the internal arc of a stressed out, petulant pop singer. And despite all the nice visuals, I keep asking, why should anyone care?
It's an interesting take on mortality. Yes, we get the 24 real-time clock lite, but that really works. Yes, Cleo comes off as kind of a brat. Varda paints a very interesting picture of Cleo's background without having to officially say too much about it. We know that she's a brat who gets her way, but we see that with the way she interacts with people. But, like I said, this movie is more about death than it is anything. Not only is it about death, but it is about living with the knowledge of one's own mortality. Is life that precious? Is life something that should be held onto with greedy reserve? Should we hurt those around us just to comfort us regarding the knowledge of our own mortality? Varda shows us this world of fear and lets us experience it through the eyes of an emotionally immature young girl.
I do have to complement her on her use of color and black-and-white. I honestly thought that this movie was going to be color, but she uses the black and white to make this movie feel almost New Wave. Paris is the perfect background for this monochromatic film and the contrast between the tarot reader's vibrant colors and Cleo's pale view of existance is striking. Perhaps I would have liked to see a little more color, but that's an ignorant critic's attempt to be a director. I probably would have done something dumb like bookend the movie with color. Who the f*ck am I?
For some reason, this movie hit home for me. I've only had minor death scares in my life, so I can't really pinpoint it on that, but there's still a very personal connection to this movie. I have to really appreicate how Cleo views her friends. Sometimes they are healthy destractions. Sometimes they are burdens. Also, while I say that I appricate the use of semi-real time, there are moments that I don't really see it as necessary. Yes, time moves slower when you have something on your mind, but when we hit the park...was real time necessary? Is that where the real time is dropped? I don't know.
This is a fantastic movie. I really wish there wasn't brief nudity so I could play this in the store.
Wait, what am I saying? Of course I love nudity! Keep it up, movie!
(1962) Cleo From 5 To 7/ Cléo de 5 à 7
(In French with English subtitles)
It's called 'Cleo From 5 To 7' because 7 o'clock is supposed to be the time 'Cleo' (short from Cleopatra) get to know about her diagnosis. At the beginning, shows the radiantly beautiful, Cleo( Corinne Marchand) corresponding with a fortune teller. After Cleo leaves, without telling her what she saw on her hand, the fortune teller then tells the person sitting in the next room(I suspect is her husband) that she doesn't have very much long to live and that she sees death on her because she has cancer. Now, I just want to say that I had to re-watch the beginning a few more times because everything the fortune teller was telling Cleo, is mostly spot on. That she's singer, and that she's living with another woman who acts like a friendly colleague of some sort who is now a widow. As Cleo leaves, we then get to hear what she is thinking, and seems to appreciate her looks, as oppose to looking forward to dying. By the time she meets with her close associate the fortune teller was telling us about before, and she asks her whether it cheered her up. It doesn't, and she starts to sob on her shoulder at a coffee shop. Although, everything we know about Cleo at the start of the movie was very blatant, viewers get to subject more emphasis about her daily life and routine as she corresponds with her boyfriend and song writers, and at the same time we're still oblivious what she's diagnosed with. Viewers are subjected to a lot of nothing as she makes sense of her presence, curious about it's affecting her. throughout the time from 5PM to 7PM, the only other thing I'm going to say is that as Cleo is allowing this questionable illness to bother her, and after the movie was over whatever she was diagnosed with didn't matter much anymore. Written and directed by Agnès Varda this is a excellent examination that had never been done before, except that the only thing I was baffled about, was that despite her being the best looking person, there was only person who approached her and that was during the final 10 or 20 minutes. I mean, you would've thought more single men would've approached her.
3 out of 4 stars