Danijel's Review of Cleo From 5 to 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7)
They say that you are what you are and you are what other people make of you. The protagonist of Agnes Varda's 1962 classic is a little too preoccupied by by the second part. She is a pop singer who had three singles out. They were mildly succesfull, at least according to the reaction of people she meets. They know her name, but not exactly what she lookes like. Somewhere in the middle of climbing the charts, she seems to have lost her personality, if she ever had one in the first place. Suddenly, new people started to appear in her life, and she slowly convinced herself she can't make it without them. They don't exactly aim at using her; in fact, they seem like pretty stand up bunch. It's just that she is a very pleasent person to spend time with, and thay decide to go along.
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.