Fun fact time: You may not have known that there are actually two factions of filmmakers that are associated with the label of “French New Wave”. There’s the more generally well known ones, from Godard to Truffaut to Chabrol, and then there’s the subset group called the Left Bank, comprised of filmmakers like Alain Resnais, Jacques Demy, and Agnes Varda. They had much in common with the true New Wavers, but their films generally weren’t as subservient to worshipping the influences of cinema, but rather taking it to new heights through similar practices of the New Wave directors; hence why they are generally seen as one large group. It is Varda that, of the major New Wave directors, I have yet to get to, until now. She would go on to have a documentary and a half-documentary drama make the list, but this, Cleo from 5 to 7, is her sole purely fictional work to make it.
Despite the title, the film actually follows the young miss Cleo from 5 to 6:30, as she kills time around Paris before she can get the results of a medical test to which she believes the result will be a cancer diagnosis. Once again, it is the simple premises that give way to the best handling of stories. The opening credits scene, where Cleo has her fortune read through tarot cards, is split between color footage and black-and-white; an interesting choice, and the first indicator that the film simply refuses to be conventional. This idea was continued as the film went on, eschewing normal filmmaking in favor of, as I described the Left Bank above, reaching to new heights. The cinematography was quite exceptional; Varda came from a photography background, and her eye for creating an interesting frame clearly shows. The other quite noticeable aspect of the film’s technicals was the editing; it was very rapid fire at times, and at other times it would slow down to accompany whatever bits of story or flair from the camera were being utilized or presented. The combination of the camerawork and the editing made the film feel completely out of the ordinary, and it was here that I began to realize what would bug me so much about directors like Godard and films of his like Alphaville; Godard wants to disrupt the experience of viewing a film immersively, while Varda wants to use the same techniques of cinema to bring you in deeper. You may realize that you are watching a film, but you also realize that you are watching a very good film, and a very well made one at that.
The film principally uses its story framework as just that; a structure upon which it can explore what it really wants to consider: the notion that we are so superficial as people that when, for instance, we are faced with our own mortality, we realize just how facetious our egos and world views are to ourselves. As Cleo puts it to herself, she feels like a doll, admired by people for her looks and style and personality, but not as an actual person, a living being who needs true connections with others to be happy, especially in the face of potential death. That this comes across as easily as it does in Cleo from 5 to 7 is a testament to how good Varda is at her craft, and especially to how well I personally was able to take to it, which was pretty damn well. Ultimately, Cleo does end up finding what she is looking for, and if you don’t mind the mild spoilers, the film doesn’t straightforwardly reveal the results of her test (though it is implied), but for a reason; it is no longer important. Even if she is given a terminal diagnosis, she has realized how to live out the rest of her life, no matter how short or long that may be, in full happiness to herself, and that is definitely something I can understand and jive with. You should, as well. Take the time and try this one; you might get a lot more out of it than you may think.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10