Reference Notes – Agnès Varda’s Cléo from 5 to 7 (1961)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead • 2nd Viewing

“My illness! Have you forgotten already? Everyone forgets but me.”

  • The halfway point — one of the greatest transitions in the history of cinema — marks Cléo’s passage from thespian to roamer.
  • To defy both curiosity and confrontation is to be fitted into the socially preferred disguise, i.e. the role of thespian.
  • The role of a roamer is both flawed in fulfilling complete, innate human desires just like the thespian: it emphasizes one to become another piece in a movement of the world rather than a spectacle of attention, clashing between yearns of freedom and admiration or of a curious paralysis and constant thoughts of material duty. Cléo’s journey towards the final act results in her subconsciously learning about how intimate relationships are the simultaneous balance from gaining the benefits and dropping the sacrifices of the two elements as opposed to the often segmented and instructional lifestyle we find ourselves switching back and forth between and completely submitting to in its rules. She becomes liberated with this proximity to death, strayed from obligation; this near death is a metaphor for her push to leave the shell and reinterpret what she wants her place in the world to be.
  • Team Antoine > Team Bob. Enough said. 
  • Cléo awaiting for the results for her illness is obviously symbolic of her fearing that she is no longer beautiful, that she has worn out her disguise.
  • Cleo’s friend’s modeling moment in the movie is obviously a representation of the un-fetishized viewing of femininity by males, opposed to Cleo’s journey which involves the sexualization from the gaze. The little short film starring Godard and Karina is even symbolic of being blind (dark glasses) to the non-sexual side of someone: the rather “wonder” of both feminine and masculine traits.
  • Cleo’s superstition plays a big role in the movie too. It seems to be the only reassuring element of belief she has to hold onto since she cannot get any from her peers; her viewpoint of “authentic” answers has sadly boiled down to something as naive as this from how corrupt her social group is. 
  • In the first half, Cleo’s own perception of self seems to be exclusively reflected in her celebritization, and the validation of her identity seems to be found in how the people view her work or her presence rather than her internal entirety. At the end, she admitting that her real name is “Florence” is representative of the “Cléo” mask almost completely coming down in front of Antoine. 
  • Agnès Varda says so much with such simple yet real and natural everyday examples within her structuring of Cléo from 5 to 7 and its claustrophobic 2-hour to 90 minute timeframe, and even brilliantly brings notions of celebritization into the experience of the common citizen. This is truly a filmmaking exemplar in balancing nimble technique manipulations and, more notably, unusually relatable and subtle visual storytelling.

Verdict: A-

A Conflict in the New Wave, My All-Time Favorite Movies

“Cléo from 5 to 7” is now available to stream on The Criterion Channel.

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