Cléo from 5 to 7

Cléo from 5 to 7 ★★★★

What a film to watch this afternoon, as the number of coronavirus victims increases, and as a dark cloud of dread hangs over the whole world: a movie in which a woman waits for medical test results to find out if she's in trouble — and responds by throwing all social-distancing caution to the wind. Okay, the concern is that she might have cancer — nothing contagious. But wow, the times you're in determine the movie that you see. And I was so aware of crowds — of proximity — during Cléo's long walks down crowded sidewalks, her meanderings through crowded restaurants, her rides on crowded streetcars, that it made me squirm.

This was my first time seeing this — I've only seen (and loved) Varda's documentaries to date — and it's absolutely gorgeous in every way, with cinematography and public-place choreography so ingenious, so constantly surprising, it's a cinematic miracle.

I think there was a lot of this film in Wenders's mind when he made Wings of Desire: So many moments drift past in which we hear snatches of intimate conversations between strangers. One particular sequence in a taxi had me wondering if it was Wenders's inspiration for the episode with the Berlin taxi driver. The reality of war hangs over the city like a dark cloud, and I could feel Wenders watching and thinking "I need to do this, but with Berlin. And it needs to be even more intimate. I need to hear the thoughts of the lonely and isolated."

With this first viewing, I'm far more enchanted by the first hour than the rest of the film. The last act's meet-cute is fine; I understand the thematic significance of Cléo slowly warming to the smooth-talking sailor who ships out in the morning. But it didn't move me, and it made things feel a bit too trite as a conclusion to the first hour's earnest investigation of glamour's corrosive effects and the emptiness of celebrity.

But it's my first trip through this masterpiece, and I suspect I'll return to it to learn what more I'm missing. I have so much confidence in Varda, whose spirit of creativity speaks to me unlike any other filmmaker's.

Now comes the fun part: looking up great pieces of writing about it. What do you recommend that I read?

Jeffrey liked this review