Cléo from 5 to 7 is easily Agnes Varda's most famous film. In a retrospective honoring Varda at the 2013 AFI Fest - my introduction to the dimunitive director - iconic photos of Corinne Marchand, ice cold in her black shades, were spread across signs and billboards on Hollywood Blvd. The highlight of the festival was a discussion with Varda before a screening of the film. During the discussion, Varda expressed disappointment that, of all her films, Cleo from 5 to 7 was the best-remembered. In a way, it's not so surprising. As Varda herself noted, the film was the result of a request by some of the New Wave directors that she make another fiction film in 1962. As a result, Cléo from 5 to 7 is actually the most easily categorizable film in Varda's ouvre. This is pure French New Wave, cerebral and cinematic, but containing those artistic flourishes that can only belong to Agnes Varda.
Cléo from 5 to 7 takes place over the course of a single afternoon, as a young singer (the eponymous heroine played by Corinne Marchand) waits to hear the results of a biopsy. Cleo is shallow, vain, and beautiful, kept by a rich gentleman who visits infrequently, and surrounded by sycophantic showpeople, superstitious assistants, and equally shallow friends. The mundanities of Cleo's life gain sudden symbolic importance with the shadow of death looming over her. A pop song becomes an anthem of discovery. A hat becomes an emblem of vanity. A walk down the street becomes a war between observer and observed. [More...]