>In France, the afternoon from five to seven is known as the hour when lovers meet. This afternoon, nothing was further on Cleo’s mind than sex. He counted the minutes until he learned the results of a test he believed would tell him he was dying of cancer. Agnes Varda’s “Cleo from 5 to 7” is 90 minutes long, but the clock seems to be ticking with Cleo’s.
Varda is sometimes referred to as the godmother of the French New Wave. I myself have been guilty of it. Nothing is more unfair. Varda is her soul, and only the fact that she is a woman, I’m afraid, prevents her from being routinely included with Godard, Truffaut, Resnais, Chabrol, Rivette, Rohmer and in this case her husband Jacques Demy. Time travel was friendlier to his films than some of their films, and “Cléo from 5 to 7” plays today as very modern. Released in 1962, it seemed as innovative and influential as any New Wave film.
Cléo (Corinne Marchand) is a fresh-faced young pop singer who has yet to experience major fame, although she has had a few songs on the radio and on the juke box. While strolling through a cafe, he plays one of his songs and we pass a woman complaining to her deskmate about the “noise”. I don’t know if Cléo heard it, even if we did. One of the devices in the film is to record the casual conversations of other Parisians that take place near Cléo as she spends her time. In another cafe, two lovers break up, for example.
There is something psychologically accurate about this. When you fear your death is near, you become aware of others in a new way. Yes, you think of something else, you think your life is going on happily, but think of me—I must die. Cléo’s awareness of it deepens a film that is otherwise about mostly trivial events.
He starts at 5 p.m., for example, by visiting a Tarot deck reader. The cards appear in color on black-and-white film. We’re not Tarot readers, but they look worrying to us. The Hanged Man and Death make their ominous appearance, and Tarot readers assure Cléo, as readers always do, that the cards “can mean a lot of things.” Then, when Cléo seems to be a pretty shallow woman so this sign depresses her.
Wandering around Paris accompanied by his maid, he stopped at a hat shop and tried on many hats, which were reflected back at him in countless mirrors. Which look will he adopt for now? It was a hot summer day, but he chose a black fur hat, which crowned his head as a storm warning.
Cléo and the maids return to her apartment, which contains a piano, a bed, two struggling kittens, and plenty of free space. He occupies the bed as a sort of throne, and receives his lover (José Luis de Vilallonga) in a scene that for them both is clearly more of a ceremony than a passion. Someone met his lover between 5 and 7? Alright, they will behave as expected. Also in attendance was Bob, the rehearsal pianist, played by Michel Legrand, the film’s composer.
It is clear in her behavior with lovers and pianists that Cléo plays a superficial pop hero, an insignificant and trivial young woman, all styles and poses. The two kittens, which Varda somehow manages to fit into the frame, are like props in a silly musical. But all this time Cléo’s awareness of her death was vibrating like a soft bass drum beneath the surface. When she plays singer, lover and hat shopper, she always plays a woman who hopes to be told that she has stomach cancer.
Her role is more difficult than it might seem, and Corinne March is and is better at it than she might think. What she does here is as extraordinary in her own way as the unforgettable character Anna Karina in Godard ‘s ” My Life to Live ” . It’s hard enough to play life-jumping sprites lightly, but how about doing that you communicate your awareness of death? (Both Godard and Karina appear in cameos in a brief silent film sequence, shown in the clip below.)
Unlike most New Wave directors, Varda was trained not as a filmmaker or as a critic, but as a serious photographer. Try freezing every frame of the scene in his apartment and you’ll find the perfect composition–perfect, but not eye-catching in itself. In motion pictures, he has the ability to capture the essence of his character not only through plot and dialogue, but more in his placement in space and light.
While many early New Wave films had a bold style, Varda in this film demonstrates a sensitivity to subtly developing emotions. Consider the order near the end. he wanders into a deserted area of the park and meets the young soldier Antoine (Antoine Bourseiller.).). They talk. Observe with great wisdom and restraint he speaks to her. He doesn’t know his health concerns that day, but he has his own, and Varda’s dialogue allows an emotional bridge to exist between them. Then Cleo was told her test results with almost cruel informality by her doctor. Then he and the soldier spoke a little more. If you want to consider the differences between men and women, consider that what Antoine said here was written by a woman, and many men will find it out of reach.