Wednesday, July 28, 2010

CLEO FROM 5 TO 7 (Agnes Varda, 1962, France)

Cleo’s superficial life is suddenly redefined by the threat of a cancerous affair, twenty-five years compressed to a sublime one and a half hours. Director Agnes Varda reduces her protagonist to the bare essential, a naked mortality where dark shades are as dangerous as rose colored glasses.

Cleo is a rising pop star living a life of empty calories, filling her time with baubles and brief affairs, pampered by her maid and catered to by her songwriters: she is a twittering voice, an elusive intellectual narcotic. But Cleo must face the sum total of her existence, a light confection sweet as sugar…and as quickly forgotten. Her physical sickness awakens an emotional dis-ease: while she waits for the results of a biopsy, this one and a half hours becomes a journey of introspection and extroversion.

The film begins with Cleo consulting a fortune teller, a colorful fantasy that soon becomes the harsh black and white of reality. Cleo is looking for the answers she wants to hear but can no longer manipulate her surroundings and must face the unknown. She tries to hide her fear behind a facile façade as temporary as makeup or a new hat. Her desperate depression soon isolates her from the world: for the first time, she is able to peer at herself from outside, her narcissism abated and transformed into magnanimity. She witnesses the world witnessing her, their attention turned towards her vacuous nature, fleeting lives existing vicariously through her senses.

She is soon lost in a city she knows so well, the natural has become some surreal destination, until she meets a soldier that must face Thanatos, his own tribulations also lost on foreign soul. Varda takes her protagonist to the cinema where she spies a silent one-reel of joy (starring Jean-Luc Godard and his muse Anna Karina!), Cleo’s problem projected outwards at 24fps. She finally makes that human connection and finds happiness in the moment when it could be stolen away forever.
Final Grade: (A)