Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 (Cleo de 5 a 7), from 1962, is from the French “New Wave” school. It’s one of those films that’s a “good” or “important” film for reasons you’d have to have taken the right film classes to grasp. So as always in these cases, I come at it more from a layperson’s point of view, or at least from my own quirky point of view, and not that of someone who can speak knowledgeably about what it all means in the history of cinema.
Alas, this is one I mostly found frankly dull.
The title character (Corinne Marchand) is a young, attractive, blonde, French singer of some small repute, maybe fairly early in her career, with a few records out. The camera follows her around for two hours of her day, almost in real time. (The movie’s ninety minutes long.)
This is the day that her lab results are to come back, showing whether she has cancer, and what her prognosis is. She has two more hours to worry about it before she finds out.
During that time, she goes to a fortune teller, spends time with her assistant, is visited briefly by an older boyfriend maybe sugar daddy type, rehearses with a couple of songwriters, hangs out with a girlfriend, wanders the streets of Paris seeing the sights and reflecting, and encounters a young soldier on leave who throws a bit of romance her way and accompanies her to the hospital to get the news.
Some of the cinematography, the street scenes of Paris and such, is pleasing, and the idea of a person facing such momentous news has dramatic and psychological potential, but I was never able to care more than minimally about this character or this movie. Her plight didn’t make me feel very much and it didn’t make me think very much. It’s ninety minutes where virtually nothing happens. Including in a subtle, psychological way. I don’t mean just that there aren’t car chases and fight scenes and such; I never connected with her and felt like what she was doing and saying was giving me some kind of psychological insight into anything.
Maybe there’s just too much separation. She’s of a different generation, of a different lifestyle, foreign, etc. For that matter, it’s a film made by a woman about a woman.
But I don’t think that’s it, or at least not more than a small part of it.
I can sometimes empathize with a character and get into a movie even if there’s very little overlap with my life. A movie like Bergman’s The Virgin Spring is even farther removed from my life experience than this, and while I wasn’t engrossed in that from start to finish, I felt like it spoke to me and that I had some connection with the characters.
For a supposedly classic movie, I don’t think the acting is even any good in this, though it’s entirely possible it’s purposely done in a certain style and I just can’t appreciate it. The protagonist goes back and forth between being unaffected by her situation to melodramatic outbursts that don’t feel real to me. A lot of the dialogue, both from her and other characters, feels scripted and unnatural. Every line uttered by the soldier on leave that she encounters late in the movie sounds like it’s read from a poem or a romance novel. (And, though I have no idea about male standards of beauty, even less French male standards of beauty, and less still French male standards of beauty from almost fifty years ago, he seems really goofy looking to me. Seeing them walk along together in dramatic, romantic scenes near the end of the movie just made me laugh.)
I never felt like I was watching real people in real situations. I felt like I was watching a very self-conscious film, one that was more about calling attention to the filmmaking process itself with occasional unconventional camera shots and such than about the story and the people. I didn’t even feel anything at the ending, when I certainly should have.
I did like the street performer eating live frogs though.