Cleo from 5 to 7 (Varda, 1961)

My second viewing of Varda’s masterpiece was pure bliss. Having already experienced in full effect the wonderful and dynamic storyline, this time around I focused more on the aesthetics and the film still holds up. Cleo from 5 to 7 chronicles roughly two hours in the life of a young French singer who sullenly awaits possibly mortal test results from her doctor and in the meantime, wanders the streets of Paris crying, laughing, and realizing her true self for the first time. From the tarot card opening where Varda uses color cinematography fleetingly to establish a sort of fantasy Cleo will have to ultimately destroy, to Varda’s constant use of ambient sound that subtely reveals differing perceptions of beauty and success, the film is one large panorama of change, both physically, emotionally, and aestehtically. Mirrors, dissecting lines of people and transportation, i.e. the city landscape makes up Cleo’s playground and Varda carefully shows her progression through this urban jungle as shifting back and forth between doubt and joy, inevitably and thankfully ending with enlightenment. As Cleo reaches a state of awareness and humility, we understand that the filmmakers never questioned the need to treat the audience with anything less than the utmost respect, first and foremost by telling a great story.

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