Funeral Pyres & Fancy Hats: Cléo from 5 to 7


It’s difficult to process the debilitating sensation of horror in everyday life. Pockets of birds are still perched on tree limbs. Cats tumble on floorboards and chase flowing articles of clothing. Repressed fear and pangs of prescience bite and gnaw at your body from the inside out. What is wrong with me? A circuit board of muscle, skin, teeth, decay. I am here to love my body; to use my feet to bound down a flight of stairs. But I also know I am being betrayed by most every fiber. Cléo from 5 to 7 is Agnès Varda’s hopscotch game of daring excitement and jaw-clenching dread. It’s syntax is both existential and curtly layman. It deals in the currency of uncertainty. In Varda’s 1962 opus, our protagonist, Cléo (Corinne Marchand), is awaiting the results of a medical test. Does she have cancer? And what does it mean to process the moments leading up to the diagnosis?

Abrupt bursts of excitement, throngs of joy, and cozy bed sheets are struck with shocks of anxiety. Cléo marches around shops, parks, and tarot card parlors with a needling sense of frailty. While in the back of a taxi, she cranes her neck in theatrical dismay. She loathes the song being played – perhaps more on this day than she would like to admit. Meanwhile, images of business windows whir by, indifferently, as the car travels past them. Corinne Marchand is wildly magnificent in a role that requires her character’s mostly resilient psyche to bubble like hot paint. In an allegro of manufactured bliss, Cléo, in one of the film’s most hypnotic scenes, sweeps her feet across the floor of a hat shop in search of the perfect accessory. How about this white one? Wait, black! It’s an emotional light-show of distraction and tension.

Varda’s black-and-white photography captures and distills the bleak, sometimes uplifting, nature of existing. The film moves with a soft rumble, like a horse-drawn carriage hiccuping over a cobblestone road. Cléo from 5 to 7 understands the awe of experience, of mortality. The placid state of acceptance when you finally, after the friction-burns of struggle, realize that you can simply resign in the amazement of being.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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