Starring: Corinne Marchand, Dominique Davray, José Luis de Villalonga
Director: Agnès Varda
Running Time: 90 mins
Cléo From 5 To 7 (Cléo de 5 à 7) is a French film about a young woman who spends an hour and a half waiting for the results of her test for a cancer diagnosis, spending the meantime living a meaningful life.
With stylish, innovative filmmaking and thought-provoking themes typical of the French New Wave, legendary director Agnès Varda’s Cléo From 5 To 7 is a captivating watch, complete with clever humour, tender emotional depth and naturally eye-catching style throughout.
The film follows Cléo (played by Corinne Marchand) in real-time as she moves about Paris while awaiting her medical test results, and in the process encountering daily life, wrestling with mortality, and finding hope in unexpected places.
It’s a beautifully simple premise that draws brilliant drama from what seems like nothing. Varda’s direction gives a vivid portrayal of the mundanity of daily life, working with slow and detailed cinematography that takes a glance at every nook and cranny of the city. And yet, when Cléo is faced with her own mortality, that mundanity suddenly becomes very poignant.
From the start, the spectre of finality looms large over Cléo’s movements, and as she goes about what is a fairly normal day, the fear of her being diagnosed with cancer in under two hours’ time is overwhelming. In that, in tandem with Varda’s clever direction, you’re encouraged to ponder every moment, taking in far more about the world around along with Cléo, as it all could be the last time you have the chance.
As a result, the film features some brilliantly captivating existentialist themes that make for thought-provoking viewing. However, the film isn’t just a moody meditation on life, and in fact proves an equally eye-catching and enjoyable watch throughout.
Varda gives a slightly more down-to-earth and optimistic perspective on the world in comparison to contemporaries such as Jean-Luc Godard, and that outlook provides the film with a charming streak of tender emotional depth. Mortality does loom large throughout, but as we see Cléo’s hour and a half develop, finding hope, happiness and meaning in unexpected places, the film’s true message emerges in delightful fashion.
Finishing on a resonant and surprising high note, Cléo From 5 To 7 shows itself as a powerful and memorable demonstration of the darkest light before the dawn. And in doing so, it brings home captivating and most of all pleasing emotional depth in a way that few other classics of the New Wave do.
The film also features delightful performances across the board, with Marchand’s timid and frightened but still charismatic turn the centre highlight. And with clever humour that blends the riveting themes with a fun-loving view of life and the city, there’s a lot to enjoy about the film throughout, topped off with Varda’s brilliantly stylish and energetic direction.
Overall, I really liked Cléo From 5 To 7. A captivating watch that cleverly combines impressive existential themes and uniquely heartening drama, it’s a smart, enjoyable and memorable film from beginning to end. And with delightful humour, performances and style throughout, there’s more than enough to enjoy and appreciate, which is why I’m giving it a 7.7.