The One about Agnes Varda’s “Cleo from 5 to 7”

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Agnès Varda, a director known for her role in the Rive Gauche (Left Bank Cinema) movement (filmmakers associated with the French New Wave but the directors had different political perspectives – for a more detailed understanding, please click here), began working on her seventh indie film in 1961 titled “Cleo from 5 to 7” (aka “Cléo de 5 à 7”).

A film which Varda has said is a “portrait of a woman onto a documentary about Paris but it is also a documentary about a woman and a sketch of Paris”.  Personally, I call it a significant Varda masterpiece.

The film was released in 1962 and was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and won the “Critics Award” in 1963 from the French Syndicate of Cinema Critics.

Fantastic!  That is my feeling of “Cléo from 5 to 7” after watching it.  Agnès Varda does a remarkable job of writing and directing a film that chronicles a woman’s life and to see her go through these wide range of emotions and the feeling of existentialism and looking at her life around the people around her.

In the beginning, we see how Cléo truly is.  A popstar who shows how vain of a woman she can be.  When she looks at the mirror and tells herself that “As long as I’m beautiful, I’m even more alive than the others”, one can immediately look at Cléo and see the lifestyle she has lived.  Frivolous and possibly a lifestyle of a queen, buying whatever she wants and reacting to when she hears her music and letting people know that is her on the radio.  But it’s when we see those layers of Cléo stripped down.  She is now in despair and has left that life that she has lived temporarily to be alone and to get the biopsy results.   Giving her a chance to see life differently when faced with her own mortality.

The film has style, it has grace, we see Cléo going through many areas of Paris, driving through Paris as we are like a passenger as we watch the scenery from the front window and of course, the film is also known for its inclusion of the short silent film “Les fiances du pont Macdonald” which feature a newly married Jean-Luc Godard, actress Anna Karina, Georges de Beauregard, Jean-Claude Brialy, Daniele Delorme, Alan Scott, Eddie Constantine and many other popular celebrities and directors from the French New Wave.

The editing is creative and artistic, in fact the inclusion of art in the film is a beautiful touch to a film that has so many enjoyable things going for it.  But most importantly is how Varda was keen on detail.  Wherever there is a clock (may it be in various restaurants, cafe’s to clocks out in the middle of the stress of Paris, we see the time).   Varda and crew were determined to capture the clock at the time Cléo is near it and that the time coincides with what is happening with the film.

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Speaking of Paris, what I loved about the film is how we see Cléo in various areas around Paris, the artwork of Hans Baldung Grien (which prior to the film, I always found his artwork hauntingly creepy) and to make a comparison of what I enjoyed about Eric Rohmer’s “My Night at Maud” from 1969 about using the camera and driving through Paris and the viewer is like the passenger, Varda uses this technique many years prior to the film and I just love seeing that incorporated if the scenery is worth capturing and in this case, cinematography in this instance and also of Cléo walking around Paris was well-done!

“Cléo from 5 to 7”  captures Paris in the early 1960’s.  A lot of the locations we see in the film are no longer and personally, I don’t know if a film can be shot today with as much access or detail or in such a way as Agnès Varda was able to capture Corinne Marchand walking around in public with not much worry about rabid fans trying to get into the film.  You see eyes looking straight at the camera (in fact, these people are probably wondering why they were being filmed) but it captures the time of people in Paris so innocently, and its a shame that some of the locations shot are no longer around.  The cinematography is breathtaking and again, the editing is well-done!  The film is literally a visual time capsule of Paris from yesteryear.

Such a beautiful and amazing film in so many levels, “Cléo from 5 to 7” is absolutely fantastic!


 

Dennis A. Amith