Cleo De Cinq A Sept - Film (Movie) Plot and Review

(Cleo from 5 to 7)

France-Italy, 1962

Director: Agnès Varda

Production: Rome-Paris Films; black and white and Eastmancolor, 35mm; running time: 90 minutes. Released April 1962, Paris. Filmed in Paris.

Producers: Georges de Beauregard and Carlo Ponti; associate producer: Bruno Drigo; screenplay: Agnès Varda; photography: Jean Rabier; editor: Janine Verneau; sound engineers: Jean Labussière and Julien Coutellier; sound editor: Jacques Maumont; art director: Bernard Evein; music: Michel Legrand; lyrics: Agnès Varda; costume designer: Bernard Evein.

Cast: Corinne Marchand ( Cléo ); Antoine Bourseiller ( Antoine ); Dorothée Black ( Dorothée ); Michel Legrand ( Bob, the Pianist ); Dominique Davray ( Angèle ); José-Luis de Villalonga ( Cléo's Lover ); with: Jean-Luc Godard; Anna Karina; Eddie Constantine; Sami Frey; Danièle Delorme; Jean-Claude Brialy; Yves Robert; Alan Scott; Robert Postec; Lucienne Marchand.



Varda, Agnès, "Cleo de cinq à sept," Paris, 1962; extract as "Cleo from 5 to 7" in Films and Filming (London), December 1962.


Armes, Roy, French Cinema Since 1946. Volume 2: The Personal Style, " New York, 1966.

Betancourt, Jeanne, Women in Focus , Dayton, Ohio, 1974.

Barascq, Leon, Caligari's Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions; A History of Film Design , New York, 1976.

Smith, Alison, Agnes Varda , New York, 1998.


Tailleur, Roger, "Cléo d'ici a l'éternité," in Positif (Paris), March 1962.

Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), 15 May 1962.

Roud, Richard, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1962.

Roud, Richard, "The Left Bank," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1962–63.

Shivas, M., " Cléo de cinq à sept and Agnès Varda," in Movie (London), October 1962.

Manvell, Roger, in Films and Filming (London), December 1962.

"Pasolini-Varda-Allio-Sarris-Michelson," in Film Culture (New York), Fall 1966.

"Agnès Varda," in Current Biography (New York), 1970.

Gow, Gordon, interview with Varda, in Films and Filming (London), March 1970.

Confino, Barbara, interview with Varda, in Saturday Review (New York), 12 August 1972.

Levitin, J., "Mother of the New Wave," in Women and Film (Santa Monica), volume 1, nos. 5–6, 1974.

Mulvey, Laura, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," in Women and Film: A Critical Anthology , edited by Karyn Kay and Gerald Peary, New York, 1977.

Flitterman, S., "From 'déesse' to 'idée': Agnès Varda's Cleo from Five to Seven ," in Enclitic (Minneapolis), Fall 1983.

Revault d'Allonnes, Fabrice, Cinéma (Paris), 8 January 1986.

Forbes, Jill, "Agnès Varda: The Gaze of the Medusa?" in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1989.

Biro, Y., "Caryatids of Time: Temporality in the Cinema of Agnès Varda," in Performing Arts Journal , vol. 19, no. 3, 1997.

Anthony, Elizabeth M., "From Fauna to Flora in Agnès Varda's Cléo de 5 à 7 ," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), April 1998.

Brown, Royal S., " Cleo from 5 to 7: Vagabond," in Cineaste (New York), July 1998.

* * *

Agnès Varda's second feature is amongst the most rigorous and delicate films of the French New Wave. While awaiting the results of a cancer test, a pop singer, stage-name Cléo Victoire, a beautiful, dreamy, artificial creature, comes to terms with her new-found fear of death.

First, Cléo's fortune-teller predicts "a transformation"; then her confidante, Angèle, is dismissive; the purchase of a hat only trivially lifts her morale. She daren't share her troubles with her suave lover, José (Villalonga). She is briefly reassured by rehearsals with her pianist, Bob (Michel Legrand, who also wrote the background music), until he misreads her nerviness as mere caprice. Shop-windows reflect her beauty, but also display grotesque masks and sculptures. On the jukebox of a fashionable café, her latest record serves as mere background to chatter. She is warmed by the earthy, natural nudity of her friend Dorothée, a sculptor's model, and responds to a burlesque film (featuring Godard, Karina, Eddie Constantine), with fast-motion funerals and dark-tinted spectacles. She removes her elaborate wig, and begins to notice the poignant and grotesque details of a certain street-life. In a quiet park, she meets Antoine, a gentle conscript destined for the Algerian war; he accompanies her to the hospital; and she agrees to see him off that evening. The doctor confirms her anxieties, but not her worst fears, and she feels part of life, of "others," at last.

The film's running-time matches the real (or rather, possible, albeit pat) space-and-duration of Cléo's journey round Paris, between 1700–1830 hrs on 21 June 1961, and using the radio news for that day (described as a Tuesday, though actually a Wednesday). Cléo's journey can be exactly mapped, and the camera leaves her twice only, and very briefly. Thus the film adapts the classical theatre's unities (time, space, action) to a properly fluid film-equivalent. Though approximating Cléo's perceptions, Varda avoids restricting herself to 1st-person point-of-view shots, which would overly eliminate Cléo's presence, and therefore her reactions and feelings, from the screen. This near-subjectivism culminates in actual "stream-of-consciousness," a volley of memory-images of earlier moments ( not flashbacks; they include changes due to mental processes).

This "subjectivism" is countered by a formalism inducing, not "alienation" exactly, but a film-form "concretism." On-screen titles announce a prologue (the fortune-teller sequence), and then 13 sections, with their exact time, and the name of a character whose personality at that moment keys the section's style. Only the prologue is in colour. Thereafter Cléo's name "christens" sections I (solo on a staircase), III (from hatshop to taxi), V (José), and VII (discovering the street). Angèle's name christens II (the first café) and IV (from taxi into Cléo's apartment). Bob keys VI (the rehearsal); "Some others" VIII (La Dôme to sculpture studio); Dorothée's IX (journey to Raoul, the projectionist); Raoul's X (the cinema). The park sequence is divided between Cléo (XI), Antoine (XII) and "Cléo et Antoine" (XIII). Bob's extrovert cheerfulness inspires "swinging" camera-movements; Angèle's style is factual and strict; Cléo progresses from an ornamental, self-centred, style (sinuous camera-calligraphy, narrow-lens close-ups of herself) to a simpler style (direct point-of-view/reaction cuts); the last section, bearing two names, suggests a meeting of minds, both at one with the landscape, not just "in" them. The cinematic styles evoke now de Sica, now Ophuls (and, of course, Démy, Varda's husband); the settings range from raw reality to a beautifully mannered rococo.

Varda describes Cléo as a converse to her second, uncompleted, feature, La Mélangite , planned as a maze of stream-of-consciousness shots. It also echoes her short Opéra-Mouffe , which depicted the world through the mind of a pregnant woman, though usually off-screen. Like that film, Cléo involves much direct cinema, and in that sense, "objectivity." If details resonant to Cléo's moods abound, it's as appropriate to mental selectivity generally. The film's reconciliation of objective-casual appearances with "expressionism" (Varda's term; one might prefer "impressionism") is virtuoso work; she perfects a certain French tradition, a blending of "camera-eye" objectivity and Bergsonian subjectivity, which runs from Vigo to Franju, and becomes fully self-interrogating amongst the "Left Bank" documentarists of the New Wave (Varda acknowledges affinities with Resnais and Chris Marker). Some critics felt that Cléo's sensitive surface somehow lacked soul, but Varda's highly articulate interviews confirm the lucidity behind a film whose intricate symbolism, or rather, poetic suggestion (angels/Angéle/flesh/wigs) repays endless analysis, the most sensitive being Roger Tailleur's in Positif.

—Raymond Durgnat

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