Cleo From 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7) Reviews
The real time of the film results in a lot of dead time. This not only fits in with European Art Cinema, but also adds a sense of reality to the film because any hour and a half of a person's life is not going to be entirely filled with action and drama and romance. What I love about Varda's film is that although she only has an hour and a half of real time to transform a character and have her overcome her dramatic conflict, a sense of urgency is never reflected in the film. The film has an unhurried feel to it. Things happen as they may. We linger on seemingly unimportant events like Cleo trying on several hats, or the taxi ride in which Cleo and Angele listen to radio and talk to the driver, or the child playing the toy piano on the street, or the street performer eating frogs. While all of these events do little to advance the narrative, in that they do not provide character motivation or causality, they do provide "slices of life" in Paris, characteristic of European Art Cinema.
And of course, there is the much debated question of what happens to Cleo from 6:30 - 7:00 PM, because the film is titled Cleo from 5 to 7, yet we are denied viewing the events of 6:30 - 7:00. As the audience, we know the film chronicles Cleo in real time, yet we are denied the last half hour of this segment of her life, which we were essentially promised by the title of the film. I'm not going to speculate on what happens to Cleo, because this ending is another aspect of European Cinema in that it is open-ended. It is open for interpretation. No one knows what happens. Not even Agnes Varda.
One salient stylistic feature that struck me was the interspersed use of subjective cinematography. Although Cleo is at times selfish and vain, we feel a connection with her, largely enforced because we are shown her subjective experiences. When Cleo descends the staircase after her tarot reading, there are several shots from her point of view as she walks down the stairs. These shaky shots, combined with the following jump cuts of her face, cause us to feel Cleo's anxiety.
But, just as we are beginning to sympathize with Cleo, we are shown point of view shots of her looking at hats. The camera shifting rapidly from hat to hat is motivated by her eye movement. We are reminded that although Cleo deserves our sympathy, she also deserves our contempt for living a lavish and superficial lifestyle. Similarly, when Cleo sings in her apartment with the pianist and songwriter, we are shown a subjective experience of Cleo. The camera slowly moves to adjust to Cleo framed with only the black wall in the background. Non-diegetic orchestra music accompanies the piano and Cleo's voice. This creates the sensation that Cleo is singing in a studio, or even on a television program, when we know that she is, in reality, standing inside her apartment. Cleo is imagining herself singing elsewhere.
Yet we are once again sympathetic with Cleo when she leaves the cafe, realizing that no one is interested in listening to her song. We feel her isolation and disappointment from her point of view, as people stare strangely and directly (at Cleo) into the camera. The shots of random people on the street are followed by flashes of people Cleo knows posing. These shots must be subjective, because they do not fit within the real-time of the film. There are several other subjective shots, including Cleo making her way through the sculpting class and Cleo watching her friend's short. While it is surreal to watch someone else's subjective experience on screen, it is also realistic, in that it provides us with a glimpse of Cleo's internal world.
I feel the film doesn't do a good job of focusing on its main character. Its supposed to be about her, and her thoughts and feelings as she waits for the test results. Instead the narrative gets distracted quite a lot in the middle. The movie does find itself back on track near the end and up to the final finish.
Sluggish in the middle but good overall, Cleo from 5 to 7 is a nice little drama.
For us being able to form this kind of a picture is a testiment to Agnes Varda's unique talents. The title of the film, Cleo from 5 to 7 should be taken litteraly. The main character is named Cleo; we follow her life one day from 5 to 7 o'clock. She is a playfull, childish young person who just find out she could be suffering from a serious illnes. Although the medical results are yet to be revealed, she already looks defeated, esspetialy after a rather unpleasent visit to the fortuneteller. Two hours of her life we see are the ones prior to the visit to the doctor, where she is to find out the outcome.
The movie looks great from the first shot, as impressive as any of the early New Wave pictures. Emotionaly, it comes alive at one particular moment. After coming back from the fortunteller, Cleo meets with her personal assistent. They go shoping, which makes her happy. Then they go home, where she indulges in what seems to be the usually routine: short exercise, visit from the insensitive (and rather elderly) personal companion, visit from musical colaborates, all under a supervision of the assistent. Suddenly, she breaks! Finally! Next step is a relief. She puts on her dress, takes off the unnecessary wig and goes outside. Alone!
There, she is finaly stoped being treated like a queen. She has a chance to confront the fears of the destiny making meeting she is to attend on her own. She does that by wondering the gorgeus Parisian streets. In a caffee house she enters, everything is quiet. The routine conversations people lead look like an attack on her personality. The silence is unbereable. She turns the jukebox. It's one of her songs. Nobody reacts in an aproving way. One customer even complains to her conversation partner about the noise. They all have problems of their own, which don't became any smaller just because she is present, regardless of the fact she might be dying. She is more and more aware on what she's been missing all this time.
I have to say the essence of this film is not easy to explain. I now see my clumsy depiction might create an impression that this is a calculated film, designed to make us, the audience, became aware of the values of living life to the fullest. No! If anything, Varda creates an impression of not even being aware that someone is going to wach the film. Her consurns lie only on the protagonist. As she wanders the streets, meets different kinds of people, interacts with them in a way which far outshines the pure spoken words, the most beautiful thing happens - we gradually develop comlete emotional involvment, without the breaking of an impartial narrative. That feeling grows until the last 20 minutes, which are a true beauty of delicate, warm, lightly poetic dialogue.
I'm shocked to learn that the lead acctres never became famous, esspecialy compared to other New Wave icons (she invites obvious comaparations to Anna Karina from Godard's My Life to Live; both Karina and Godard appear briefly). Corinne Marchand is her name (see what I meen), and she has a character impossible to simply lift from the paper. Her physical and mental involment is absolutely crucial. Without it, she could come out as cartoonish, spoiled brat and the film would fall in that most dangerous of situations: gaining our attention simply because she is faced with a possible death sentence. Merchand, as well as Varda's camera make her sweet, life - loving and almost crying for enough bravery to get rid of her charming insecurities. The line between those two is thiner than you could imagine.
The biggest succes Varda accomplished is showing us two hours in the life of a person who just happens to be a woman. Not that she flipped a coin to esstablish the sex of the protagonist. There was, off course a clear idea behind that, fully revived on the screen. I'm referencing the feminist aspect of the picture, and the awkwardness which comes with the mere mention of it. Eventhough her womanhood is brought in all its glory, Cleo remained sexless in our assement of her possabilities. That means that, sure, you can look at her as a victim of "phallocentric society with its gender divisions deeply rooted in dogmatic past" (not a direct quote, I'm just trying to get into a mind of a feminist writer). Or as a human being whose potentials far surpas "meets the eye". I don't have any doubts as to where I stand.
They were all on the dumps anyway and the actors didn't seem to be too passionate. A movie like this works only if we care about the characters (especially the lead!), but they all bored me. The main character was a melodramatic mess and each scene dragged on an on. The narrative annoyed me as well. I hated every second involving the people in this movie and the fact that the movie was shot in real time (90 agonizing minutes) made it even worse. The titles in between scenes showing the time and names of the characters in the scene really made things drag. In essence, this movie's over the top flashy style distracted me from the already weak subject matter of the film. Watching this movie was absolute dread for me.