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Ali Motte

French American School of New York, Junior

REVIEW | Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) directed by Agnès Varda

Cleo From 5 To 7 transcends the line of realism and art, intertwining the two until they become indistinguishable. Through the use of calculated camera angles and natural sound, the film perfectly reflects an ordinary life; yet Agnès Varda constantly reminds the viewer that the film is a piece of art and is in no way real. The striking contrast in the use of two seemingly opposite techniques and messages challenges the established balance of life imitating art, sending the viewer into a kaleidoscopic self-reflection. While film is completely valid as a form of entertainment, Cleo From 5 To 7 engages the viewer in a melting pot of the gravity of reality and the light nature of fiction, inducing a delightfully confusing third reality.

The movie can most definitely be defined as a realist film. Cleo is a woman living in Paris, with a cast of friends around her. Cleo leads a normal life throughout the story, and since the action is drawn out (waiting for the results of the medical tests), it leaves plenty of time to portray Cleo as a character and not a puppet to the action. Sound has a huge effect on how to make the movie a realistic one: we hear what Cleo hears at all times, from the first scene where she doesn’t listen to the conversation between her friends but instead chooses to focus on a couple of strangers. Then we hear the sounds of the Paris street, the rustling of the train, and everything in between. The only moment where sound is used to demonstrate something not real is in the scene in which Cleo sings at the piano, and then there is suddenly an entire orchestra backing her up.

Cleo 5 to 7, Corinne Marchard

Despite being a realist film, Cleo From 5 To 7, is also a work of art. Agnès Varda is trying to bring the viewer into a real, tangible life, but then uses techniques that constantly remind that viewer that what they are seeing and relating to is purely fictional, and holds little to no truth. The most effective technique used by Varda is the division of the movie in chapters. Every so often we see something along the lines of “Chapitre V: Les Autres”. Dividing a seemingly flowing, train-of-thought story that follows Cleo as she wanders, waiting for her tests, breaks said flow and pulls the viewer back into their own being suddenly. In this way, the movie also reads like a book, giving the viewer a sense of control—like they could stop ‘reading’ whenever they wanted. Other effects are used to remind the viewer of the movie perspective: swinging cameras in the scene where Cleo is singing in her home. Even at the beginning of the movie, there is a sudden shock; the image is initially in color, then after a while it turns black-and-white, and remains this way for the entirety of the film. Even as the viewer just begins to get invested, they are brought back into reality.

Cleo From 5 To 7 was Varda’s first success, and deservedly so. The movie meticulously weaves art and reality into one. The concept of telling a realistic story with a Virginia Woolf-like narrative is broken with the division of chapters and the change of camera angles and color. Varda manages to add complexity to the viewer’s understanding of reality, and of art and life themselves. It seems that life does imitate art, but perhaps the saying can be reversed. Varda and the French New Wave brought a new dimension to film and this addition to the world of cinema is priceless.