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CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 (director/writer: Agnès Varda; cinematographers: Paul Bonis/Alain Levent/Jean Rabier; editors: Pascale Laverrière/Jeanne Verneau; music: Michel Legrand; cast: Corinne Marchand (Florence, ‘Cléo Victoire’), Antoine Bourseiller (Antoine), Dominique Davray (Angèle), Dorothée Blank (Dorothée), Michel Legrand (Bob, the Pianist), José Luis de Villalonga (José, The Lover), Loye Payen (Irma, the fortune teller), Lucienne Le Marchand (La conductrice du taxi), Serge Korber (Plumitif, the lyricist), Robert Postee (Doctor Valineau), Anna Karina (actress in silent film), Jean-Luc Godard (actor in silent film), Eddy Constantine (actor in silent film), Raymond Cauchetier (Raoul, projectionist); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Georges de Beauregard/Carlo Ponti; The Criterion Collection; 1961-France-in French with English subtitles)
“… has its spirited moments.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Photographer-turned-director Agnès Varda’s (“A Hundred and One Nights”) debut feature film is Cleo From 5 to 7. It’s an engaging film about a young vibrant but fragile woman dealing with the possibility of having cancer, that’s filmed in real time as successful pop singer Cleo (Corinne Marchand, ex-model) anxiously waits in this two hour time frame (the film’s length is ninety minutes, allowing the viewer to fill in the missing time in their own way) to get back her hospital test results. This was the film where Varda made it into the big boy’s exclusive New Wave club of Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol and the like.

The spoiled superstitious singer, Cleo, leads a sheltered life from her public. Depressed about the possibility of dying she visits a fortune teller (Loye Payen) at 5 P. M., who sees sickness in the tarot cards chosen but fails to tell her that she has picked the conclusive death card. Chapter headings are used to announce the upcoming story. We observe an uptight Cleo leaving her guarded private world to tour Paris on the first day of summer. She decides that “as long as I’m beautiful, I’m still alive,” as she takes a taxi ride with a tough-as-nails woman cabbie, her opposite in personality, and has coffee in a café with her loyal secretary Angèle (Dominique Davray), who patronizes her as she sobs. She then goes shopping with her to buy a black hat, which is supposed to pick up her spirits. What follows are a visit in her apartment by her unfeeling boyfriend José (José Luis de Villalonga) and then a visit by charming wise guy piano accompanist (Michel Legrand) and lyricist (Serge Korber), who while rehearsing try cheering her up by acting silly but don’t sense her real pain; she gets a fright walking the streets when she watches in a crowd as a street performer swallows live frogs; feels uncomfortable in an artsy café and bolts when no one recognizes her even as her song is being played on the juke box; visits her longtime model friend Dorothée (Dorothée Blank), who is posing nude at a studio for a group of artists; visits Dorothée’s projectionist (Raymond Cauchetier) boyfriend who tries to cheer her up by showing her a silent comedy with Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina and Eddy Constantine; and, finally meets in the park a nice soldier, not from her circle of acquaintances, on leave from the Algerian war, who wins her over with his good rap and accompanies her to the doctor.

The self-absorbed, insecure, shallow pop singer who craves attention comes to realize that she’s led an empty life, where her fame and beauty are transient but give her the recognition she wants. Afraid of losing her beauty (thereby her sense of being) she nevertheless comes to a rude awakening in these traumatic two hours that the only one she has met who is sincere is the soldier, and that her life is a series of superficial incidents that leave her emotionally drained and unable to see clearly what she’s doing.

Varda’s film has its spirited moments and lets go with some interesting woman’s think, but it’s also at times as vacuous and giddy as its heroine–which is not always a bad thing, but again it’s not always a good thing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”