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Cleo From 5 To 7 is one of the first films by Agnes Varda, a Nouvelle Vague director. It depicts two hours in the life of a woman wandering throughout Paris on June 22, 1961.
As Slant puts it, "Photographer-turned-director Agnes Varda is considered the archetypal girl who crashed the big boys' clubhouse, and Cléo from 5 to 7 was the film that paid her membership fee."
Florence Victoire a.k.a. Cleo is a young singer whose career has recently taken off. She has just been told she might have cancer and is anxiously awaiting her biopsy results, which she will get at 7 PM. She visits a Fortune Teller, whose tarot reading increases her fears rather than reassuring her. She then goes to a café with her maid, and then to her luxurious apartment where she receives the visit of her lover, a wealthy older man, and later of her two songwriters. She goes back out and picks up her friend, who works as a nude model in a sculpture workshop. They go to a cinema where they watch a short silent film from the projectionist's room. After they part, she goes to Parc Montsouris, where she's chatted up by a talkative but pleasantly earnest soldier whose leave is about to end. He accompanies her to the hospital where she picks up her inconclusive biopsy results. And that's it.
The film develops several themes: the fear of death, the possibility of living a meaningful life, the relations between human beings, the perception of women. But it is also a quasi-documentary depiction of Paris in the early 1960s.
Contains examples of:
- Bittersweet Ending: The story ends abruptly without a dramatic resolution, leaving Cleo's fate an open question.
- Brainless Beauty: This is how most people perceive Cleo, and the audience's challenge is to see beyond the stereotype without Cleo herself making it any easier with her flighty, self-absorbed attitude.
- Deliberately Monochrome: The entire film is in black and white, except the opening scene.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: There's Cleo, and we're going to be in her company from 5 to 7 p.m.
- Actually, if one wishes to nitpick, the story ends before the two hours are up, which may be meaningful in itself. See Fridge Brilliance below.
- Foreshadowing: The film is peppered with symbolic references to death, such as the words "Deuil" (mourning) and "Pompes funèbres" (funeral parlor) appearing in the background, a mirror breaking and Cleo's black dress.
- Fortune Teller: Her tarot reading at the beginning of the movie is the only scene shot in color. Of course she draws the Death card.
- Gay Paree: Displayed in a naturalistic way. To quote the Slant review again: "Varda captures the fairy-tale essence of early '60s Paris with a vivacity and richness that rivals Godard's Breathless."
- Innocent Fanservice Girl: Cleo's friend is completely unselfconscious about posing nude for a whole room of mostly male sculptors.
- Out-of-Genre Experience: The naturalistic Slice of Life narrative is interspersed in its middle part by a song number.
- Show Within the Show: The movie within the movie.
- Shout-Out: The silent movie is a reference to the films of Buster Keaton. A poster for the surrealist classic Un Chien Andalou is also visible in the background at one point.
- Slice of Life