Cléo from 5 to 7

Cléo from 5 to 7 ★★★★

In the stunningly original Cleo from 5 to 7, Agnes Varda uses a unique (for the time) structure of following a woman around Paris for 90 minutes in "real" time to explore the fear of death. We know that the film is going to take place from 5'o clock until she meets with her doctor at 6:30, an appointment at which she expects to find out that she's dying from cancer. There's built in suspense as to what the outcome of her biopsy will be, which helps string along an audience that may be turned off by the silliness of the situations Cleo finds herself in the opening scenes of the film. The vast majority of the film takes place on her "errands" she runs as a semi-famous singer, including shopping, looking into mirrors, and taking car rides with her friends. She also has a few meaningful conversations with confidants and strangers in which Cleo is able to either express her deepest fears and desires, or mask the pain by putting all her energy into superficial activities.

Cleo is a memorable protagonist. She's flighty and melodramatic, constantly checking her appearance and taking every opportunity to emphasize her celebrity status as a singer. It's like she lives her life as a grand Hollywood spectacle in which all eyes are trained on her as she's framed in close-up. However, she's in a lot of deep emotional pain as she grapples with mortality. There are so many other interesting themes explored, especially the mirrors. When the film opened with a tarrot card reading featuring pretty bad acting and some ridiculous dialogue, I lowered my expectations. Then there were some moments so poignant and heartbreaking later on that I couldn't help but get swept up in Cleo's waiting game and experience the same anxiety she was.

It is important that Agnes Varda is a woman. I say this because the interactions Cleo has with men throughout the film are very different than what you see in other films with a beautiful female protagonist. She sees herself as a beautiful woman. She comments that people should look at and admire her. However, there are times when she is filled with anxiety about her doll-like appearance and seems to get anxious when she imagines how people see her. The intention of these scenes were to explore Cleo's inner world and reaction to the attention of men to her physical appearance than having the audience gawk at and admire her along with the men checking her out in the film. This is an important distinction that was almost lost on me until I thought harder about why she was always looking in a mirror. In addition to her interaction with strange men on the street, she also has a lover who doesn't get much screen time. He's basically an afterthought, someone who seems to operate in the material world and Cleo fits right into the life like she's performing. Then she meets a soldier in the park and their connection is emotional, philosophical, tender, and sincere instead of being just about sexual attraction. I find the way Varda characterized the men in the film says a lot about her views on gender dynamics.

Varda's background in documentaries and journalism give her cinematography a sense of realism and immediacy that makes it really easy to connect to the story. There are times where cinematic flourishes take precedence over realism, but the images are so gorgeous and the marriage with the score and diegetic sounds is at times transcendent. I think this is because everything is driven by what Cleo is feeling whether it's fear, boredom, sadness, or hope. I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to explore the rest of Agnes Varda's work!

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