Cléo de 5 à 7 (France, 1962)

Zeitgeist of its time

It’s a sign of age, and too much time watching movies maybe, that I’m running out of ‘classic’ films to see. Cléo de 5 à 7 has recently come available and, having studied and taught  the French new wave (nouvelle  vague), it was great to catch this oft-mentioned film. That said, I was a tad disappointed. Maybe my middle age ennui is getting the better of me…

On the plus side, there are great shots of Parisian streets and some stunning compositions, particularly using mirrors. In an early scene in a cafe, the frame is cut by a post making it seem as if it’s actually split in two. Cleo is listening to others about her going about their lives as she waits for 7 ‘o clock when she’ll receive the results of tests for cancer. The soundtrack also privileges her perception as she hears people’s conversations as she passes them by.

It’s a sort of two-hour (90 mins running time) road/walk movie as Cleo approaches the dreaded hour of her diagnosis. All good stuff; including a silent movie pastiche starring Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina. However…

Cleo is a pop star and so is, unsurprisingly, represented as rather vapid. The idea is that she gains character as the hour approaches however I found the film’s final scenes, where she meets a soldier about to return to Algiers, entirely unconvincing. I found Antoine Bourseiller’s soldier creepy rather than inspirational. However, the moment of the diagnosis is handled well.

For me there are bits of brilliance, and it must have seemed amazing in the early ’60s, so I shall say it’s very much a film that is the zeitgeist of its time.

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