Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)
"Cleo from 5 to 7" is an audacious film, though I would say not an entirely successful one. The film tracks the doings of a young starlet named Cleo through two hours of her life in real time. The movie doesn't quite make it to the two-hour mark, but then again, what's the sense in having a movie titled "Cleo from 5 to 6:30"?
Cleo (Corinne Marchand) is a woman whose pride goes before her. She has only released three singles and is fairly popular; but she's an ego-freak who enjoys all the attention she gets from other people. It's quite interesting to note that director Agnès Varda tries to show growth in the character in only 90 minutes, which is simply astonishing by any set of standards.
At the movie's opening, we are privy to a little bit about Cleo: she's sick, perhaps very sick. She is awaiting the test results to see what is going to have to happen, but she has cancer and she knows that it's not going to be pretty. Yet, we don't see "Cleo from 5 to 7" as a movie where the main character tries to rationalize her life and tries to undo all the bad she's done. In fact, Cleo is a rather selfish character for most of the film and likes existing in her own world, rather than focusing on others.
Extremely low on plot and high on characters, "Cleo from 5 to 7" isn't too emotional or too depressing or even too funny. It's an odd blend of things that comes across rather flat when you look at it objectively.
But there is greatness here and not just for how pain-staking it must have been to capture the movie is real time. There are scenes that transcend themselves like Cleo attempting to sing a new song and breaking down because of how emotional it is, or her finally grasping the gravity of her situation and seeing everyone looking at her in flashes. She begins to put pieces together, but it all leads up to a dissatisfying and overly happy ending.
The biggest question that comes to mind is why? Why does Cleo deserve to be happy? Why do we care what Cleo does?
It's a large gamble for Agnès Varda to take and for the most part it pays off.
The film begins in color and then drains to black and white, which helps preserve the ageless feeling of its cast. The actors give genuine performances here, and Varda treats them with dignity.
Following Godard's "Breathless" we begin to see more edgy and experimental movies like this pop up everywhere. It has the quick, jump edits and the haunting score to aid it along the way.
"Cleo from 5 to 7" should be viewed as a character study, one that sympathetically watches and makes slight comments.
It's too slight to be powerful; yet I feel like this is a movie that will stick with me for a long time if only for the visual beauty of it.
Varda here is a little unsure, a little flirtatious, and very professional; and while "Cleo from 5 to 7" is as charming as any movie I've seen, it needed that extra half an hour to prove something to us.
Posted by Micah Jones