Wednesday, November 04, 2015
Cleo from 5 to 7
Written and directed by Agnes Varda, Cleo de 5 a 7 (Cleo from 5 to 7) is the story of a singer who spends nearly two hours awaiting the results of a medical test to see if she has cancer as she ponders her own life and what is ahead. The film is a mixture of melodrama that is mixed in with an air of realism as it is told in real time of a woman dealing with the fate of her life. Starring Corrine Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dorothee Blank, Michel Legrand, and Jose-Luis de Villalonga. Cleo de 5 a 7 is an astonishingly rich film from Agnes Varda.
Set between five and seven in the evening, the film revolves around a singer who is waiting the results of a medical test as she fears for her life and what is ahead if she does have cancer. It’s a film that plays into a woman going into a journey of self-discovery while questioning everything where she would walk around the street of Paris in the course of nearly two hours. The film’s screenplay doesn’t flesh out the plot as it favors more about the anguish Cleo (Corrine Marchand) endures in the course of two hours though the script does have a structure of sorts.
Especially as it showcases Cleo’s own anguish where she tries to distract herself from reality by going shopping with her maid Angele (Dominique Davray), rehearsing with her band, hanging out with friends, or meeting a sailor named Antoine (Antoine Bourseiller). While Cleo would cope with the impending news, there would be elements of reality as it relates to the war in Algeria, the growing feminist movement in France, and other events that Cleo doesn’t want to hear about. It would add to the growing despair in her life where the themes of existentialism become very prominent in the course of the film as meeting Antoine very late into would raise these questions about life.
Agnes Varda’s direction is definitely mesmerizing for the way she captures the life of a woman in nearly two hours. Shot entirely on location in Paris, Varda maintains an intimacy into much of the direction while she does use some wide shots to capture the many streets that goes in Paris while not shooting around its many landmarks. Instead, Varda just goes for something that is very simple while creating something that feels like a moment in time which plays into the harsh realities that is happening around Cleo such as a sequence where she and Angele are in a taxi driven by a woman who is listening to the news about Algeria and Edith Piaf’s surgery just a year before she would pass. The specter of death would also loom throughout the film as it begins with Cleo visiting a fortune teller who would reveal exactly what she might go through.
Varda’s direction would also play into that mixture of melodrama and dramatic realism for a few scenes such as a rehearsal between Cleo and musicians who write songs for her as she copes with the content of the music. Varda’s approach to close-ups and medium shots would maintain that sense of intimacy as well as the anguish that looms in Cleo. Even when she encounters things in the streets of Paris like protests, a man eating live frogs, and a man killed in the streets of Paris. By the time the film would reach its climax where Cleo meets Antoine at a park and they ride the bus towards the hospital for the impending news. The film definitely takes on a tone that is a bit more serious but also has this momentum that is building for the fate that Cleo faces as well as the fact that if it is bad. There is still time to make things right in whatever problems she has. Overall, Varda creates an entrancing and somber film about a woman facing the idea of death in the span of two hours.
Cinematographer Jean Rabier, Alain Levent, and Paul Bonis do amazing work with the film‘s black-and-white photography in not just capturing the city of Paris during the summer in the parks and in the streets but also in maintaining a look that feels very real for many of its exterior scenes along with a few scenes in the interior scenes. Editors Janine Verneau and Pascale Laverriere do brilliant work with the editing with its emphasis on jump-cuts to play into not just the energy of Paris but also that sense of tension that looms in Cleo. Art director Bernard Evein does nice work with the look of Cleo’s apartment which is spacious and filled with posh things but also play into some of the emptiness that is in her life.
Costume designer Alyette Samazeuilh does excellent work with the clothes that Cleo wears that play into her posh lifestyle as well as the hats she would wear and buy. The sound work of Julien Coutelier and Jean Labussiere do terrific work with the sound to capture many of the naturalistic moments in the locations as well as the radio reports that play into the situations that is happening in France. The film’s music by Michel Legrand is fantastic for its mixture of piano-based music with some somber orchestral flourishes along with the songs that Cleo would sing in rehearsal and in a scene where she hears herself on the radio to her disgust.
The film’s superb cast includes notable appearances from filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, Eddie Constantine, Jean-Claude Brialy, and Anna Karina as actors in a silent film Cleo watches, Michel Legrand and Serge Korber as Cleo’s songwriters and musicians in her band, Dorothee Blank as Cleo’s model friend Dorothee, Raymond Cauchetier as Dorothee’s friend Raoul, Dominique Davray as Cleo’s maid Angele, and Jose Luis de Vilallonga as Cleo’s lover Jose who is dismissive about her illness. Antoine Bourseiller is excellent as the sailor Antoine whom Cleo meets late in the film at the park as he provides some unique insights about the world and what he is about to go into which would play into her own development. Finally, there’s Corrine Marchand in a remarkable performance as the titular character as this singer who deals with the idea that she will die through a horrible disease as she ponders her own existence as it’s just this ravishing yet devastating performance which is the highlight of the film.
Cleo de 5 a 7 is a magnificent film from Agnes Varda that features a great performance from Corrine Marchand. The film isn’t just a intense look into the life of a woman in the span of two hours but also a compelling film that explores death, reality, and life itself. It’s also one of the most important films to emerge in the French New Wave that plays into not just the sense of reality of a woman’s situation but also the environment she was in during one of the country’s most turbulent eras. In the end, Cleo de 5 a 7 is an incredible film from Agnes Varda.
© thevoid99 2015