Friday, August 16, 2013

Masterpieces Classics: Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Sometimes, one would hear the phrase "The book was better than the movie". And yet, if Agnes Varda's masterwork was based upon a novel, the movie would most definitely be better. This is because of the film's unique pacing: it moves in real time.

Unlike another real-time masterpiece, Before SunsetCléo from 5 to 7 actually follows the title character Cleo in situations, not conversations. Cleo is the only character present in all of the scenes.

Why is Cleo so integral to the story? The film begins at 5:00, with Cleo dreading 7:00, when she is to know whether or not she has cancer. She goes hat shopping, she practices singing (she's a professional), and she meets a friend at a movie theater. Throughout the whole film, there is a looming sense of dread. Cleo is always glum.

Agnes Varda's work is tremendous. Being a French New-wave film from the '60's, she tries such an original idea and makes it work so perfectly. Like Leni Reifenstahl before her, and Kathryn Bigelow after her, Varda was a great female director that shows her best work here.

There is purpose to seeing Cleo's day in real time. She spends it with friends, shops, and writes music. It all sounds relatively fun, but she is unhappy. One could argue that the unhappiness is induced by the unknown disease eating at her, but the unhappiness is due to the robotic routine. You only get a window into Cleo's life, yet Varda leads you to believe that you're seeing her whole life.

Cleo, by the film's final 15 minutes, finds happiness. I won't say how, but I can say that you'll know it when you see it. The film ends as the time approaches 6:30. Spoiler alert, you never find out Cleo's disease. But that doesn't matter. It's a short blissful moment of happiness that is what matters, and Varda makes it matter.

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