English Title: Cleo from 5 to 7
Original Title: Cléo de 5 à 7
Country: France, Italy
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director/Writer: Agnès Varda
Music: Michel Legrand
José Luis de Vilallonga
A 90-minutes real-time experiment tracks Cléo’s life from 5pm to 6:30pm (although the title indicates a 120-minutes span), directed by the reverend female Left Bank pioneer Agnès Varda, actually it is my first entrée into her oeuvre.
Cléo (short for Cleopatra, Marchand) is an uprising singer, who is going to get a test report from her doctor of whether or not she has cancer, the film records the exact time she spends before receiving the result. Beginning from an ominous Tarot card augury (the cards is the only part shot in color), Cléo descends into upset and despair, solaced by her assistant Angèle (Davray) and a fur hat bought in a millinery, they return home and Cléo has a brief moment with her preoccupied lover (de Vilallonga), then arrives the pianist Bob (the composer Legrand himself) and the lyricist (Korber), they rehearse a poignant rendition of SANS TOI (a majestic one-take close-up of Marchand’s emotive exuberance).
Afterwards, Cléo meets her friend Dorothée (Blanck), who poses as a nude model in a sculpture studio, together they watch a silent comedy short (starring Godard, Karina, Brialy, Constantine and Frey, which is a welcome highlight against the seemingly unpremeditatedly arranged text). Wandering in a park, Cléo meets a young soldier Antoine (Bourseiller), unexpectedly they establish a sincere conversation and he accompanies her to the hospital, where Cléo acquires the results while Antoine is going to the Algerian War the next day.
Throughout the film, Varda conspicuously edits into the montages of passers-by on the street, in the cafeteria or on the bus, tellingly attests its “realness” in her modus operandi, which delineates the winsome picturesqueness of Paris at then, projects a strong sense of objectivity albeit its dramatised content, a young woman’s inner state when she is facing the most stressing and gnawing 90 minutes of her life, waiting for a call from death or a near-miss joke.
With three people billed as the cinematographers, the film actually adheres to a consistent effort of modulating the tonality of a laid-back documenting stance, although it is not a groundbreaking sleight of hand as the long-take stunt of real-time shooting in Aleksandr Sokurov’s RUSSIAN ARK (2002), frankly it is a bad comparison since Varda’s work is made ages ago. Most importantly CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 still remains its distinctive élan of being a French New Wave prose and positively enchanting with its loosely organised language to keep the story intact.