I have rewritten this blog entry so many times but I am dissatisfied every time with it. How can I accurately describe how much impact this film has had on my life as a critic, an artist, and as general lover of film? It is an impossible feat, but I guess I will try.
Cleo from 5 to 7 is on the surface just about a young woman awaiting medical test results, but bubbling underneath this simple story is something that is infinitely more complex. The film meditates on the position most beautiful (and even ugly) women are forced to endure every day when they exhibit talent at something. She is coddled by everyone around here, made to think less of her talent as a singer, and even the fact that she is sick is mocked by people surrounding her. All of this has made her into nothing more than a child. For the first forty to forty-five minutes of the film, she is seen by the people who see her. Her assistant treats her like a child, her collaborators pull tricks on her and then tell her she has no real talent, and her lover only stops by for a few minutes but in that time manages to destroy all the light in her face. During this first forty minutes, she is elaborately dressed in the girliest of clothing. Getting sick of how she is treated she sheds her silly accoutrements and leaves her apartment. The last portion of the film the world is seen through the her eyes. She watches people interact with each other at a crowded cafe, sculptors make art at a studio, kids enjoying themselves on the lawn and finally the sick people and their families on benches at the hospital garden. In these images she finds herself. She understands that it is not always all about her, but it is about the world as a whole. It is about meaningful connections and relationships with people who see you as an equal as opposed to a plaything. This is illustrated by the relationship she forms with a solider that is being shipped off to Algeria. Their relationship is marked by genuine care for each other and the troubles they are going for. He escorts her to the hospital so that she does not have to hear the results alone and she sees him off at the railway station so that he can say goodbye to someone. Their relationship is poetic in its idealism. At the end this build up to whether or not she has cancer does not really matter anymore. She knows that she has the strength to fight what ever comes.
I love this film because it gives hope to me in ways other feminist films do not. Most feminist films are kind of stringent in its themes and in its outcomes. For a good comparison film I would suggest comparing this to Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. In Jeanne Dielman, the protagonist’s only way out of her crippling situation in life is to kill and even that is no real release. Although Cleo is faced with uncertain circumstances, the hope is evident in her face in the closing shot. I would recommend this film to any woman who is facing uncertain times and see if she is not moved by it (of course assuming that she can get past the whole black and white and subtitled aspects something that impedes a lot of people’s viewing experiences).
This film is a good indication on whether or not you will like Agnes Varda. She expands on themes she sets out on this film and also repeats a lot of devices that originate here including using the radio as more than background noise but an indication on the character’s preferences, the constant talk about trees, and placing her story in a journey scheme. Her characters are active not only psychologically but also physically. If you loved this film than I suggest you journey on sister. Otherwise abandon ship before the waters become more treacherous. She will only get more obscure from here on out.