‘ Cleo de 5 a 7’ chronicles, in real time, 90 minutes in the life of rising pop singer Cleo Victoire, played by Corinne Marchand. Even though the name of the film says Cleo from 5 to 7 it actually takes place in real time from 5 pm to 6:30pm in Paris on June 21st, 1961. Cléo, a young singer, awaits the results of a medical test and fears being diagnosed with cancer – an hour and a half of her time spent in a state of anxiety, in pursuit of a spiritual quest.
We move gradually from the title sequence to the film. Once all names have been credited, the fortune-teller reads a second deck in which she gives a clearer view of Cléo’s fate. When she has expressed that she anticipates a genuine disease, the camera shifts to the faces of the actresses and we understand with shock that the film will be in black and white. At that point, we move quickly to Cléo’s first passionate expression: a mix of fear and sadness. Varda (the director) begins substituting in the middle of colored shots of card-decks, hands, and black and white shots of faces. Her representation of reality in black and white is a totally arbitrary decision, yet by setting color in the credits, she demonstrates that the tarot cards are just an allegory of life. What the psychic advises Cléo does not appear to be established in all actuality, seeming more as a fairy tale.
I’d like to focus on how time changes a person. Like all human beings, we take for granted the things we have until our mortality is in question and we have stared at the face of death, and suddenly such things that always seemed important aren’t so important any longer or vice versa.
Similarly, the film shows how, the fact that Cleo thought there was a limit to her time, she begins to gradually peel away her narcissism.
The journey that Cleo is on may seem simple and straightforward but emotionally Cleo goes through a deep and spiritual transformation. (The fortune teller seemed to be correct.)
By the time Cleo meets the soldier Antoine on leave, the unimportant and materialistic things that she always believed made her happy, aren’t important to her any longer, and she now looks at life and people in a whole new light. Who knows, if Cleo wasn’t going through such an emotional and existential crisis if she would of ever paid attention to a man like Antoine. Even though Cleo’s fate isn’t really declared at the end of the film, she can at least now look into the future with hope and without fear.Cleo is no longer afraid of death and what her future might bring, and because of this, she has now grown from a spoiled young girl to a confident and strong woman.
In a very subtle way, Varda has shown this to us in development and the transformation of the main character in the reflections seen in windows and mirrors.
During her more narcissistic moments at the beginning of the film we note that every time Cleo walks by a window we see her reflection, and she often notices it as well. As the film progresses the reflections in windows and mirrors gradually diminishes. By the end of the film there are no more windows and mirrors and Cleo is just her human self – without the added narcissistic reflections.
Cleo, during those two hours, has learned that the only thing she has is the present.