Film Reviews

Cléo from 5 to 7 Agnès Varda

Rating - 7/10

Agnès Varda's Cléo from 5 to 7 is a quintessential component to the reverence of the French New Wave movement, but its favor of stylistic technique and transitory allusions over expanded characterizations breeds disparity.  This is counterproductive in a film that intimately examines one-and-a-half hours in the life of a young aspiring pop singer.

Since the late 1950s, the French New Wave has been exemplified by its defiance against conventional filmmaking methods, and Varda invariably demonstrates comprehensive skill and artistic competence most vividly in the establishing title sequence.  As the only scene filmed in color, the camera looms above two conversing figures from an aerial view with only hands and tarot cards visible, echoing the initial discord created for its principal character, Cléo Victoire.  Sibyl Madame Irma predicts a series of events amidst a starkly anxious Cléo in what Varda describes as "a fiction that draws us into reality."  Although the tarot reading is mere conjecture, it provides the basis for Cléo's fear of death that incites her entire behavior throughout the film.

Varda's practices pervade Cléo from 5 to 7 through use of precise chronology in uninterrupted chapter markers, snippets of inner monologue to reveal personal apprehensions, and jump cuts of mobile Paris natives from Cléo's point of view, apexing during a semi-hallucinatory mosaic.  The latter revelatory technique clarifies and alters the manner in which Cléo defines herself as a literal reflection of her own vanity and mortality.  This comparative introspection is profoundly inspired by the 16th century paintings of Hans Baldung Grien, which are slyly embedded into the singer's luxurious loft. Varda cites "Death and the Maiden" for its dichotomy of alluring and sinister imagery, symbolizing the physical manifestation of fear, transience and frailty of the human form.

Complementing the influence of German Renaissance art is the omnipresence of mechanical clocks.  With their integration in nearly every milieu, Varda creates an interesting mirror of subjective versus objective time, explaining that the blending of manipulative experience with a fixed constant aids the establishment of figurative and literal intervals, particularly on the summer solstice, June 21st, the longest day of the year.  Although the day has the most extended period of daylight, it is eclipsed by omens and allusions to Cléo's black dress and hat as a symbol for illness, the breaking of the pocket mirror as sign of death, and the macabre lyricism of her ghostwritten songs.

Additionally, Cléo's name is derived from the Egyptian pharaoh Cleopatra, presumably as a mark of her nobility and love of cats who litter her apartment.  Yet, contradictorily, the prima donna exerts an ongoing series of melodramatics and egocentric quips.  "Everyone spoils me; no one loves me," Cléo laments.  These instances act as potent disassociations and neglect for expansion of supporting roles (Angèle, Dorothée, and Cléo's unnamed suitor).  Even if Varda has painted Cléo as a sympathetic and conflicted character, the endemic concentration on her clandestine contempt rather than the interplay between other characters may have modern audiences equating the film to an insular or superfluous meditation on existence rather than an evocative artistic passage through Paris in the evening of one woman's life.

At times Cléo from 5 to 7 is an incredibly well-made film backed by an encyclopedia of high influences.  As its leading character wanders further from coherency, however, the work's references and love-struck philosophical rhetoric, particularly from the mouth of Algerian soldier Antoine, veer into the inconsequential and paradoxical.  "Great feelings are full of vanity and great minds, of foolishness," Antoine ecstatically proclaims after surmising Cléo's inherent melodrama.  His proverb actually serves as a sort of reverse commentary on the demonstration of Cléo's ill sentiments and Agnès Varda's lucid wisdom, respectively.