Thursday, 20 July 2017

Cleo from 5 to 7 (Cleo de 5 a 7) (1962)

Cleo fra 5 til 7
Here is another movie I did not expect much from. French new wave cinema has had a lot of trouble impressing me and the description of “Cleo from 5 to 7” sounded… uninspiring to say the least. Following a girl around for 2 hours almost real time while she waits for the result of a medical examination. Not exactly my kind of movie.

It starts that way two. There is no plot, not in the classical sense at least and as not much is happening I found myself drifting for the first 15 minutes. Then something happens. I am not sure exactly what it is, but I assume that in the disappointment of any plot to latch onto the brain starts to look for something else, and that is what this movie has plenty of. There is a lot of something else.

In fact this movie is so smack full of impressions from Paris in 1962 that you could watch this movie, get nothing else out of it and still leave happy. The taxi drive through Paris while listening to the radio news was a real eyeopener. It felt very real and with so many details that it got me quite excited. While this sounds like a distraction it also served as the key to the movie for me.

The woman we follow is Cleo (Corinne Marchand), a singer of some fame who is now waiting for the results of what sounds like stomach cancer. Cleo is surface and appearance. Everybody looks at her, even herself, but all anybody see is a baby-doll-like bimbo with the depth of a cartoon character. She is frankly rather annoying. Her relationship with her boyfriend is super shallow, like that of an admirer and I get the impression that they only care for each other in as much as they feel flattered. Then half way through the movie Cleo takes off that awful wig and change from the flamboyant fur coat and polka dot dress and into a more anonymous black dress and she is completely changed. It is as if she is changed from the image she wants the world to see and into herself as a person who actually watches the world. I was only able to put it into words when I watched the extra material, but the effect was very clear and striking in the movie. She changed from a non-entity I did not care about and into a real and interesting person.

The curious thing is that she was a lot prettier as herself, she could in fact go around like that today and she would not look out of place, but that is beside the point. As Cleo observes the world so do we. People in the café, on the street and the people she meet. All because of a change in view point becomes a lot more interesting. Her friend Dorothée (Dorothée Blanck) is a mirror on this experience. As a nude model, the artists see her but they do not see her as anything but an idea. Away from the studio she is alive and joyful and nothing like the empty shell the artists are looking at.

It is in this state Cleo meets a soldier in a park, Antoine (Antoine Bourseiller). At first he seems rather annoying in the way he is coming on to her, but his interest is genuine and so she finds herself genuinely interested in him, something very different from her relationship with her boyfriend, and she opens up and find relieve in that sharing.

When Cleo finally gets the results of the test it seems almost inconsequential. In a way she has through her transformation healed herself.

This is a quite unusual film and as I wrote in the introduction I would not have expected to like it, but I found that I actually did. First for the treasure throve of details it gives, but then as it opens up, for the existential depth of it.

The whole real-time thing seems like a gimmick, like Hitchcock’s (almost) one-shot “Rope” movie, and it sometimes threatens to sabotage the movie. Life is simply not interesting enough for two hours that we need to see it all, but it does add to the realism and makes all the details so interesting. Fragments of dialogue, news in the radio, random people on the street and all the strange things that happens in real life and not in a typical edited film version.

Of the French new wave movies, I have watched, this is probably the one I have liked the most, one that actually captures the idea of this new wave. Recommended.



  1. I really like this movie a lot. It comes across as incredibly real. In fact, the only thing I really object to is how all of the portents come true. I get so tired of superstition being rewarded in movies.

    1. It was very real indeed. I did not really notice the portents. In that part of the movie I was not very attentive, I am afraid.

  2. I haven't seen this for several years and remember very little of it but the basic premise. I'll have to pay better attention this time!

    1. There are many things to look for and even though it all look a bit chaotic I think much of it have a meaning.