Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Rates: * * * * *

Why did I watch it? Voted # 2 on a BBC list of the greatest films ever directed by women.

Cast, crew, etc.

A young woman wanders the streets of Paris during two critical hours of her life; she has just had a biopsy (prior to the film’s beginning), and now she is waiting on the results. Her tarot card reader thinks she has cancer, but her effusive assistant assures her everything will be fine. She chats to strangers, hangs out in a cafe, meets up with an old friend, stares moodily into space, wears the shit out of a couple of outfits, and buys a hat. Meanwhile, the throbbing hum of the city continues all around, picked up in snippets of overheard conversation, radio news bulletins, and oddball street performers.

Agnes Varda’s mesmerising, existential drama is somehow simultaneously about one self absorbed person, AND about everything else. The film was recently listed as # 2 on a BBC poll of the greatest films directed by women, and you can see why: it accomplishes a number of things that have a high degree of difficulty.

Chief among these is the subtle way the camera’s attention drifts between Cleo, and her environment; one moment showing her in pensive reflection, or giving you her thoughts via voice over, the next shifting to a random couple at the next table having a spat. The cumulative effect of this, distracting in less capable hands, is to give you a sense of how the character is connected to the city she lives in. And, further, you could say also, how it shapes her, alters her moods, triggers up and downs. The character and her environment exist symbiotically, which is quite a concept to convey through visuals and sound.

Otherwise Cleo struggles with day-to-day issues probably familiar to women of any era. Every single guy that crosses her path, tries to pick her up; one complete stranger even just yells ‘HEY! HOW ABOUT A DRINK?’ as she walks by for one second on the street. And then there are her own insecurities about her looks, her career, whether people take her seriously, how is she doing compared to everyone else?

Luminously shot, the black and white imagery highlights some stunning locations, and Corinne Marchand’s (in the lead role) striking visage. Dorothee Blanck also registers strongly, in a small role as Cleo’s best friend.

A wondrous, subtle, dreamlike movie, this’ll be rolling around in my mind for quite some time.

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