Thursday, June 6, 2013

Death and the Maiden: Cleo From 5 to 7

This film is famous for being a capstone of the French New Wave by Agnes Varda.  What I love about Varda is her playfulness, her casual relationship with what is called a plot, and her distractions.   Although seemingly very structured—it follows Cleo (short for Cleopatra, whose real name is Florence) for literally an hour and a half, every minute taken account of—yet it seems so distracted.  There are montages of faces, of items, so much time is spent driving, and it passes from one relationship to another.

The film begins at a fortune teller who, through Tarot cards, sees the main relationships in her life: her widowed servant, her too-busy lover, her songwriter, her close friend and a talkative man, and also clearly sees Death.  This is what Cleo was most concerned about.  She has the results to come back this very hour as to whether she has cancer or not.  Her friends all tell her not to worry, they are sure it’s nothing.  But she is just as sure it is something.

And this film is not about the incidents and relationships of an everyday life.  Rather, it is about how Death colors one’s life.  Every face she sees, every friendship, every acquaintance is affected by the fact that Death is looming over her, creating a fear that she had never felt before.

Part of the tension of the film is how can a woman so beautiful, so vibrant, so full of future, be hindered by death?  Yes, older people, sickly people, poets, priests, we can see them hindered by thoughts of a sudden cessation of being, but how can a fresh young woman have this.  This is why almost all of her friends dismiss her concerns, and lead her attention away from the eternal to the everyday.  But she already seems bored by the everyday-- couldn't she use a dose of reality, of cynicism, of higher thoughts?

There is much there I could not catch the first time.  I look forward to my next viewing of the film.


  1. I really like the visuals accompanying your commentary. I really need to see this film, but I have such a love/hate relationship with the French New Wave (e.g., Breathless/Vivre Sa Vie).

  2. This film is so unlike other French New Wave. Instead of being ponderous or pretentious, it is playful and meaningful. Even if you've never liked the New Wave before, try this one out, it's worth it.