Director: Agnes Varda
Cleo from 5 to 7 is number 14 on the 2022 Sight and Sound Poll, another big climber from 207 in 2012. Another female directed film, after Jeanne Dielman at 1 and Beau Travail at 7. It’s (almost) a real-time film, following French pop singer Cleo around Paris from 5pm to 6:30pm as she awaits the results of a medical test.
And what a breeze this film is. Florence, Cleo is her stage name, is first seen at a tarot reading, where the predicted results of her test are not seen by the cards as good. She meets her maid (a fabulous channeling of Lynn from Alan Partridge energy) in a cafe and goes hat shopping. This first third is fabulous flaneuring – streets, cafes, taxi rides, shops, pavements all crammed full of interest. Director Varda was a cinematographer and each shot is immaculately framed, despite a loose and dynamic feel to the camework.
The energy drops in a long scene at her bijou flat – who wouldn’t want a swing and a coterie of kittens in their living room? – as firstly her older lover and then her Rogers and Hammerstein drop by to rehearse a new song. Far better to go and drop in on a friend who is an art model and then get back on the streets.
I can’t deny that the last third can’t deliver on the first fabulous hour. There’s a rather bizarre interlude when Florence and friend go to a cinema and see a short in which Godard and Anna Karenina skit early silent cinema; and the final scenes where she meets up with a soldier on leave from Algeria are slightly heavy-handed and slow compared to what has gone before.
Paris of the early sixties looks absolutely swinging – from hatshops to packed cafes and street circus acts: like Doisneau or Brassai photos magically in motion. Florence sails through it all, alternately wrestling with dark thoughts of mortality and being distracted by a smart shopwindow. Corinne Marchand is perfectly cast as the flighty, glamorous but ultimately pensive Florence, seeking answers to the big questions in life in a movie that feels always light on its feet.
Might appeal to people who enjoyed:
Truffaut and Godard – who might have beaten her to the international stage, and turned their new wave hits into stellar careers, but Varda on this evidence was making cinema every bit as exciting.