'Cleo from 5 to 7' Anges Varda's 1962 classic opens the 22nd Cork French Film Festival


WRI/DIR: Agnes Varda • PRO: Carlo Ponti, Georges de Beauregard DOP: Paul Bonis, Alain Levent, Jean Rabier ED: Pascale Laverriere, Janine Verneau • Cast: Corinne Marchand, Antoine Bourseiller, Michel Legrand, Dorothee Blanc

The Gate Cinema,  7pm, Sunday, 6th March 2011

The 22nd Cork French Film Festival kicked off in glorious monochromatic style with Cleo from 5 to 7, Agnes Varda’s masterful dissection of time and geography set against a positively vibrant Paris in the height of its New Wave cool.

Cleo, a beautiful but very vain pop singer, exists in a bourgeoisie bubble populated by assistants, casual friends, and eccentric colleagues and the film delights in sharing these eccentrics with the audience. Despite the ‘real time’ aspect at play throughout, the tone is pitched to an absurd degree, the highly stylized tone and characters broad stroked but perfectly drawn. Through the filter of the gradually changing Cleo we see her world of artifice fall away as her life comes into clearer focus through the potential tragedy that hangs over her.

The film is literally episodic with title cards coming up to indicate the time of scenes and the character in which the segment will focus on. Naturally Cleo drives the narrative but it is noteworthy that we get glimpses into other people’s thoughts and actions, those that orbit this by times petulant and at other times wise woman. Many issues are dealt with in the various conversations; femininist concerns, existentialism, the nature of fate, the inevitably of death, but the story is never weighed down its ticking clock ensuring a brisk pace and a light touch as the glamour of Cleo’s life eventually gives way to a deeper truth and more meaningful relationships.

The latter is encapsulated by the brief but intense bond she finds with a soldier primed to head off to war the very same evening. Both characters are under a guillotine of sorts and in this realisation the movie’s most naturalistic moments shine through. A very subtle and winning performance from Antoine Bourseiller and genuine chemistry with the film’s luminous star Corinne Marchand makes the encounter between them the heart of the piece. It’s easy to fall in love with the aesthetics of Cleo From 5 to 7; sumptuous, seductive and hyper stylized, it remains a feast for the eyes but it’s the low key writing, perfectly crafted world and such scenes as the solider meeting which makes it linger and rewards repeat viewings.

Take out all the New Wave trappings, even the cameos by Godard and Anna Karina in a charming silent film sequence, and you’re still left with the simplest of stories, expertly told. It may exist in a place just left of reality, its touchstones being music and the attitudes of its time, but the film hasn’t dated. Its themes transcend its location and tropes and continue to resonate in important ways. A truly beautiful film from a visionary director, a lot can happen in an hour and a half and as we can see here a legacy can be forged.

Emmet O’Brien


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