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Revisiting a Classic: Cleo from 5 to 7

In a year that saw very few cinematic released (unless you count the endless Netflix-originals that have been churned out left and right), we have no other choice but to revisit some old classics. Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) might not be as famous as other films of the French New Wave, however, even decades later, it still feels contemporary and fresh.

The second feature of legendary director Agnes Varda, follows a singer known by her stage name Cléo as she spends two hours waiting for results of a medical exam. Filmed almost in real-time, we spend the hours waiting with our protagonist. While on paper this might seem a tad boring, Varda’s unconventional and surprising filmmaking techniques make for a story filled with both humour and emotional depth.

Cléo wanders around Paris, and through everyday-moments, we catch glimpses of her life. We briefly meet her inattentive boyfriend, get an insight into the trajectory of her music career and spend time with her friends. Varda’s ability to weave background information and character development into the simplest interactions and meetings allows us to have sympathy and understanding for a woman who at surface-level, seems spoilt and whiny.

The film seems reminiscent of Waiting for Godot: as we follow our protagonist on her journey, the outcome of the result moves further and further to the background. The emotional change within Cléo is at the forefront, and each character she meets adds something to that. By the end, the film’s outcome is completely different than we expect, but no less satisfying.

In a year like 2020, it is hard to not relate everything we see and read to our current experiences. And Cléo from 5 to 7, feels very apt. Her existentialism, her restlessness while she waits for time to pass, are all things we can currently relate to. And the film feels very comforting because of it: we realise as time passes that there is beauty in the wait, just as much as there is comfort in the outcome, even though it might not be exactly as we had envisioned it.

Agnes Varda is a filmmaker who has so often been overlooked. In a time and movement, that largely centred on men, she fought her way through. Now, years later, she is finally truly being celebrated for her work. And while the difficulty of being a female director in a time when there were so few may have stopped her from reaching wider audiences, it may have actually attributed to her unique filmmaking style. Even from her second feature, we can see her ability to capture the smallest moments and making them significant and her work has a spirit that even decades later is as interesting and joyful as it was back then.

Cléo from 5 to 7 is available to watch on Mubi.

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