Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) dir. Agnes Varda

This is one of the films that I consider to be a bookmark in my film history.  There was my life before Cleo from 5 to 7 and there was life after this film; that’s how good it is.  The film chronicles Cleo, a French singer, as she waits to hear about her cancer diagnosis.  In the span of time (from 5 to 7) we follow Cleo as she rehearses with her pianist and songwriter, goes hat shopping (insanely amazingly beautiful camera work), rides in a cab, meets up with a friend, and then finally encounters a soldier who is on leave from fighting in the Algerian War. 

When people utter the words “French New Wave” this is the film (and filmmaker) that comes to mind. Agnes Varda plays with film language in ways that manage to feel buoyant yet grounded in something substantial and current.  Varda utilizes jump cuts, a film within a film (that features Godard and his then wife, Anna Karina), and has fun with diegetic and non-diegetic sounds.  All of this while Cleo waits for the diagnosis, a diagnosis which has less to do with cancer and more to do with a rumination on how we choose to live our lives, in the moments that we have them. Nothing is promised to Cleo as she sorts out how the world views her and how she views it; this film reminds me that all we have is time and the freedom that comes with knowing that’s all we have.

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