REVIEW: DVD Release: Cléo From 5 To 7

Film: Cléo From 5 To 7
Release date: 11th October 2010
Certificate: PG
Running time: 90 mins
Director: Agnes Varda
Starring: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray, Dorothée Blank, Michel Legrand
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Studio: Artificial Eye
Format: DVD
Country: France/Italy

Cleo From 5 To 7 was released in 1962 as part of the Rive Gauche movement, but its placement in the ‘60s overlaps unavoidably with French New Wave - it features a silent movie scene, which name-drops cameos from New Wave connoisseurs Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina. The plot could theoretically be mistaken for a bitter kitchen sink drama - an excerpt from the life of a melodramatic French pop singer named Florence “Cleo” Victoire, detailing the events of her life on a particular Tuesday from 5pm to 7pm as she awaits the results of a cancer biopsy - however, enigmatic directorial skills make for delightful viewing pleasure.

Alongside the opening credits we see a table laid with Tarot cards. Everything is in colour: all the picture cards, the kitsch table covering, the hands of the fortune-teller and the subject. It ends with the death card being drawn, and we see the owner of the voices for the first time - only they are in black-and-white. This is the film’s heroine, Cleo. For the rest of the film, all colour is drained from the screen; Cleo and her glamorous Parisian life are represented like a beautiful photograph in true French 1960s style.

Cleo has only released three singles, and yet her overemotional demeanour would easily trick you into thinking that she is somewhat of a musical icon. Her hair is perfectly coiffed; the jewellery on her hands is not particularly subtle; and she has a kitten. After receiving a home visit from her composers, she declares: “Darn Tuesday, I’ll do as I like!” and exits the house. Most attractive young ladies would be secretly meeting gentlemen or drinking in bars between 5 and 7, but Cleo has bigger fish to fry.

The remainder of the film features little narrative plot, and yet we happily follow Cleo through a variety of tasks. She begins by putting one of her own records on a jukebox in a cafe, desperately seeking adoration while she maintains her air of egotism. We saunter around picturesque Paris with Cleo, performing aimless social tasks for a while. But Cleo is slowly ascending into another level of being which we catch sight of during her meeting with Antoine, an Algerian soldier who is due to depart for war the following day. Both characters are looking death in the face; they are dealing with survival and yet there is nothing hopeless about them. Cleo says that she has “the feeling that my fear is gone” – she is finally ready to receive her test results from Dr. Valineau…

Varda selects the use of hand-held cameras, and it is as if we’re walking alongside Cleo, or maybe we are even Cleo herself. Scenes are constantly shot from the peripheral vision of the speaking character so that we see their perspective rather than their face; we are momentarily part of this fictitious bubble. Cleo’s taxi journey at the beginning lasts for five minutes, dropping the viewer completely into her world without omitting the trivialities of life. The reality expressed through these stylistic choices is incredible, and as gratifyingly far from Hollywood editing as you could wish for.

Corinne Marchand skilfully steps up to the part of Cleo, maintaining a consistent stubborn expression in a believable portrayal of Cleo’s superficiality. For a girl expecting the worst, Cleo’s shallowness means that she has plenty of interest in playing the suffering victim - Marchand allows her character to remain charming yet laughable in her overkill of obstinacy. The difference between Cleo and her model friend Dorothe is a wonderful contrast of opinions, with Dorothe’s carefree nudity as an art model versus Cleo’s requirement for material objects.

Varda’s background in photography clearly shines through in the visual quality of the film, and she throws in a few symbolic mirrors to underpin the idea of Cleo’s narcissism, constantly bringing her beauty to the film’s foreground. Towards the end of the film, Cleo breaks a mirror. She unsurprisingly sees this as an obvious omen of death, but for the viewer it is almost refreshing to see the vanity finally broken - it is an indication that Cleo is now growing out of her juvenile theatrics.

Michel Legrand provides the musical score whilst also appearing as Cleo’s composer, Bob, donating a handful of beautifully composed tracks to the film. His jovial and animated acting role is also perfect at highlighting the ridiculousness of Cleo’s theatrical behaviour; while Legrand is laughing, Marchand is giving us a divine overload of tears as she practises a haunting ballad.

Cleo From 5 To 7 Exhibits a superb sense of real life as it flows almost in real-time, following each minute of Cleo’s evening in chapters but compressing the two hours into ninety minutes. This female-orientated film from a female director sneaks in amongst all the masculinity of the New Wave with a charismatic take on the reality of death. This is not just another movie about a vacuous blonde star; it is a chance to see life being questioned, and an opportunity to watch a marriage of boldness and optimism at their best. NM

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