Friday, February 5, 2010

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962)

Cléo de 5 à 7
Director: Agnès Varda
France 1962
90 min
Starring: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Dominique Davray, Dorothée Blank, Michel Legrand, Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, among others.

I'm back from the dead!
Before I start with my thoughts on this really cool Agnès Varda directed French New Wave gem, I have to complain a bit about the circumstances to why I suddenly can't post as often as I'd like, and why I haven't been visiting my fellow bloggers' sites. Believe me, the will is there.

The cause is the evil mastermind of Swedish Railways, that kept me away from home 12 hours yesterday. It's really a catastrophe that has been repeated practically every day for the three weeks I've been to school.
Common people who live in Sweden have understood that there's usually snow and ice during winter, but Swedish Railways have managed to avoid realizing this pattern since they started their business in 1856.

"We apologize for cancelled trains and late departures. Suddenly there's ice on the brakes, the heat has stopped working in the trains, the speakers have broken, the next train leaves in 1,5 hours and - by the way - if your train is 59 minutes late or less you won't get a shit for compensation from us. Ha ha! ...Again, we apologize."

Oh, and the compensation for a 1h - 1h 59 min late train is 22 Swedish Crowns, ca $3. Amazing, isn't it? The situation is so surreal that it has become funny, tragic, irritating, maddening and funny again. That is why I take an early weekend, so I don't risk killing a poor conductor or something.

If some computer whiz reading this feels like hacking their site and write WE ARE ASSHOLES is big, red capitals across their page, feel free to do it:

Swedish Railways - always on time and respecting their passengers since 1856.

I actually had a point with this rambling. That is, when I finally get home after this excruciating pain I am so God awful tired that the only thing I manage to do is eat, play Sims 3 and sleep. I realized the extent of my Sims 3 addiction when I thought the other day of why I couldn't enter game cheats in real life - why can't I Shift click on my mail box, choose the Make All Happy option and terminate my need of sleep and food? I of course realized that I would get the same effect with amphetamine. (Perhaps also with the more legal and a lot more laxative drug called coffee.)

Fucking Swedish Railways. They take away my will to live.

At least I have my film studies to be happy about.

Luckily I get to see some cool films in school, so my life is still not entirely unpleasant. After a viewing of the 28 minute French sci-fi/mockumentary La jetée (The Pier, 1962 - inspired by a scene from Hitchcock's Vertigo, 1958, and the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's Twelve Monkeys, 1995), that we all are going to analyze, there was a screening of Cleo from 5 to 7. While watching it for the first time I really had no idea what to make of it, but afterwards I realized that I liked it a lot.

Now the problem is how to describe it. I bet every cinephile that has tried to explain a French New Wave film knows what I mean. Films belonging in this category, Cleo included, not only use the film medium in a highly inventive way technically, but they almost always concentrate more on delivering a feeling and an understanding of the characters (or in a way, confuse us into understanding their complexity and illogical ways) than telling a simple story. Yikes, I already start to sound like a hard core film nerd (if I already didn't).

Our main character is obviously the title character, Cléo (played by the incredibly beautiful Corinne Marchand). We soon realize that Cléo is a famous singer, surrounded by friends and co-workers. However, it also soon becomes evident that Cléo is more like two different women: Cléo, the perfect singer with the world at her feet, and Florence, that is more her true identity. At some time Cléo's inner monologue sheds light on her "Cléo persona" for us:

"Everybody spoils me. Nobody loves me."

Sounds sad, but it's also a credible assumption. The people surrounding her - maids, songwriters, piano players - see Cléo: the product. This becomes even more clear when studying her character development, starting out as an self-centered, melodramatic diva, and later becoming... well, something else. Something gives her inner peace and makes her reflect about her life, and that is the same thing that makes the story go forward: waiting to know whether she has cancer or not.

"As long as I'm beautiful I will live forever."
That's another line from Cléo's inner monologue, and one that has upset many gender issue obsessed feminists - but Jesus, doesn't it say more about the insecurity of the character than anything else? The film was directed by a woman, for Pete's sake.

Okay, this is a film about a chick that probably has cancer. Sounds like a French estrogen version of Ikiru - To Live (1952), right? [post] Well, apart from the cancer factor, they have little in common. While Watanabe in Ikiru is informed of his cancer in the beginning of the film, Cléo is waiting for her report all through the film. While Watanabe consciously changes his life and gives it meaning after years and years of living as a "walking zombie", Cléo avoids her character transformation until it strikes her unexpectedly in the form of a soldier by the name of Antoine (Antoine Bourseiller)  - when she finally connects with another human being and enjoys the company of someone interested in getting to know her.

I could go on, but what's the use? Ikiru and Cleo are two completely different pictures, but share a tone, a feeling, that I love.

Cleo is known for being a film played out in real time, much like the TV series 24. Without the bombs, terrorists and Jack Bauers, of course. The choice of making the film playing out in real time is especially effective when considering the plot: waiting for something frightening feels like an eternity. We follow Cleo around the 1960's Paris as she shops for hats, visit cafés, meeting up a friend and goes to a movie theater: everything to pass time and not think about her impending death.

An obvious question about the real time element is this: how come the film is only 90 minutes long, when following the main character Cleo from 5pm to 7pm? Interestingly enough, the film seems only to cover the time between 5pm to 6.30pm, leaving out the last half hour. If I understood it correctly, that is. One never knows about these films. But if my interpretation is correct, it's pretty interesting. We are left completely without the closure, and that is left for us to imagine or not imagine. "Of course, they kiss." was a comment I read in a discussion about the film. Well, perhaps. But I think that is to miss the big picture, in a way. Not that I can completely figure out what it is. I am just happy with the state of mind it left me in, and I highly recommend it. Just don't expect any action - watch it when you feel lonely or down. Or hung over.

Agnès Varda - married to director Jacques Demy 1962-1990.

Behind the scenes. Agnès Varda under the camera.

There is one part of the film that completely differs from the rest, in an adorable way. I simply had to include it here.
Cléo is visiting a movie theatre with her friend, and through a peeking hole in the wall she watches the following silent short. It is a brilliant pastische of silent comedy, and the Harold Lloyd looking fellow is none other than French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard. Those "damned sunglasses" were something Godard always wore in real life, but Agnès Varda thought he had such beautiful eyes that he had to show them on-screen. And voilà! (The blonde chick is Anna Karina!)


Darsh said...

Wouldn't it just be more convenient to move closer to school?

Lolita said...

Perhaps! But I wouldn't like to live in Stockholm, I think. And the few friends and family I actually have live in Norrköping. The classic argument for not moving, I think! And it is SO fun complaining!

Darsh said...

Seems kinda crazy to live so far away from school. I don't know how many years you have to go, but if you're this tired after just a few weeks I hate to imagine what you're gonna feel like in 6 months.

Best of luck, but I think moving would be the wisest choice. All that time and money spent on the train seems like a huge waste to me.

Princess Fire and Music said...

Ugh, what an ordeal. I hope they get it together soon, but where I go to school they also can't handle snow, and the past four winters have been the same mass panic over every little flake.

It sounds like a great film, though. Definitely one I want to see. The lack of closure you describe is kind of a hallmark of the French New Wave; they were rebelling, in a sense, against the conventional Hollywood narratives that tied everything up in a neat little bow at the end.

Kendra said...

I LOVE Cleo from 5 to 7. Corrine Marchand is so beautiful and hooray for Agnes Varda. We had to watch it in a New Waves cinema class in college.

Great blog, by the way!