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Morriah Lisowski

Edward R. Murrow High School, Senior

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

“They called me the ‘Ancestor of the New Wave’ when I was only 30. I had seen very few films, which in a way, gave me both the naivety and the saying to do what I did.” — Agnès Varda

In the 1960s, socially and politically, France was redefining its identity. People were breaking away from a traditional social stand point and wanted to decentralize the government. This was also inspiration for the postmodern takeover in the film and theater of the 20th century. Women were included in this takeover, and without realizing it, Agnès Varda made a huge contribution. Cleo from 5 to 7, which she wrote and directed, was a part of the new feminist wave.

“Everybody spoils me. Nobody loves me,” says Florence (aka Cleo). Although the film centers on Florence finding out if she has cancer or not, it’s the least important part of the film. Varda has already proven to us that the film can be done in color when Florence has a tarot card reading, yet she keeps the black-and-white. Florence perceives life as a black-and-white picture where she only has two options, to be strong or weak, and she believes she has to be weak. In the beginning of the film, she wears a polka dot dress and she looks entirely uncomfortable in it. Granted, she found out she may die from cancer, but still, by herself, her eyes stare into the camera as she walks down the steps as if she wants to rip it off. However, when she steps outside she starts to grow; her posture straightens as she feels everyone looking at her. She especially gains her confidence when men catcall her. This was Varda playing with how some men perceive women—“They just dress to impress”—which really isn’t true. Because each time a man catcalls her, she ignores him.

Cleo 5 to 7, Corinne Marchard

In a traditional sense of film, women characters who love their appearance or are selfish are typically “evil” characters. They’re vultures to women who are more youthful than themselves, toy with men, and can have some sort of a resemblance to a witch. Florence was none of these things. She just loved herself, at least her appearance. Her self-interest may not have been entirely healthy, but she wasn’t evil. She was carefree and she longed to be a strong, independent woman. The moment when she’s in the store buying a hat shows this. Varda plays with reflections and mirrors a lot in this film since mirrors are a major part of Florence’s identity. Without speaking, Florence is walking along the street with her maid and looks into the window of a hat store and the reflection creates an image of her with the hat. She walks in and, as she tries on the hat, there’s no dialogue. The maid stares at her with no envy, but she stands for traditional values that Florence lives to break, if purposely. As she walks around the hat store, there’s a moment when the camera is following her from behind, and for a moment we think we’re looking at the inside of the store when really a mirror is reflecting the outside. There’s always the lingering worry of judgment that Florence feels, and no matter the situation she still feels people looking at her.

The whole film was not an attack on men, which is important to recognize. Her relationship with the veteran proves this. In the park there were no mirrors, just nature. Instead of seeing herself, she was just living, and when the veteran approached her, she, responded. Instead of upbeat music which usually plays when she’s being catcalled, or the sound of her walking, or the organic city sounds, there was just the sound of the stream and the wind. The fact that the veteran was a kind man does not excuse the catcalling, but shows Florence’s own judgment of others. Not all men are pigs. Throughout the film, Varda stays away from romance because the film isn’t about her trying to find her other, it’s about learning to be independent. She was always independent; she just didn’t know it.