Cléo from 5 to 7: the classic Nouvelle Vague by Agnès Varda is cosmopolitan at heart | Movies

So elegant, so stylish, so extremely and eternally cool. In broad strokes, Agnès Varda’s second feature film sounds like a headache: Cléo Victoire (Corinne Marchand), singer in Paris, nervously awaits the results of a biopsy. In more specific terms, it seems rather uneventful: taking place in real time, Cleo spends her day bustling about: going to a café, trying on clothes, hanging out in her apartment with friends, walking the streets, taking cabs. But Cléo de 5 à 7’s pure delight comes down to the execution, its form and aesthetic born of the coolest cinematic movement of all: the French New Wave, to which the legendary Varda was a key contributor.

The incredible 1940s and 50s film noir genre rivals FNW in freshness and grit, with hard-hitting crime stories and a more unified aesthetic. But French troublemakers (many of whom started out as critics) threw away the rulebook and radicalized the form and grammar of the medium, shaking its foundations and injecting cinematic storytelling with wild new possibilities. Cléo from 5 to 7 is one of the most playful classics of the New Wave, cosmopolitan at heart, attuned to the effervescence of the city – which is Paris around the beginning of the 1960s. Magnificent !

The trailer for Cléo from 5 to 7.

It begins in color, with aerial shots of tarot cards that today might be compared to the work of Wes Anderson. Once Cleo receives a grim (albeit non-medical) prognosis – the diviner proclaiming “the disease is upon you” as the singer draws the death card – the film switches to monochrome and follows Cleo out of the room. Just before exiting the building, Varda inserts one of several shots of mirrors, used in part to deduce that the protagonist’s sadness is enveloped in his beauty and vanity.

“As long as I’m beautiful, I’m alive,” she says via internal monologue as she gazes at herself – but that’s not the look of someone happy to be either of those things. On the street, Cleo passes various businesses and people, and that’s where the cosmopolitan delights come in.

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