Agnès Varda is the forgotten member of the French New Wave — if she's a member at all. In either case, it doesn't matter. What matters is that Cléo de 5 à 7 has not lost an ounce of its vitality, beauty or technique since 1961.
On the surface, two real-time hours (that are actually an hour and a half) in the life of a pretty Parisian singer awaiting hospital results, the film proves how useless plot descriptions can be and how important images and sound — not plot — are to great cinema.
Starting with an inventive opening sequence set in the house of a fortune teller, Varda transports us to Paris in 1961 and allows us to live with or as Cléo in this magical land of reflections, mirrors, and shiny things. In one scene, for example, Cléo takes a fancy to buying a hat and goes into a shop, tries some on, and picks one out; all of this culminates in a tracking shot, from the outside, of the shop's long front window that starts transparent (showing Cléo inside), changes to reflective (showing the busy street), and finishes inside the shop.
This theme of perspective and focus is key to Cléo de 5 à 7. In a film-wthin-a-film that features JLG and his once-wife AK, a man watches his lover die only to discover that what he thinks has happened has only been an illusion brought on by the "dark" sunglasses he's wearing! So, too, Cleo learns that regardless of the result of her test, it's silly to sit around and mope and think about the worst. Your outlook is never imposed on you; whatever the situation, you can be optimistic, or pessimistic, or anything in between. According to Varda, it's better to have fun and hope for the best, as does Michel Legrand in a scene when he goofs around but composes a song for Cléo. Then and there, even Varda joins the shenanigans as her camera mimics the swinging motion of Cléo on her indoor swing.
Cléo de 5 à 7is comedy, romance, drama. It is playful and sombre, and beautifully shot by Varda, who was a photographer before she became a filmmaker. There are a handful of critics who consider it slight and a waste of time, but, being a hypochondriac, I know that they're quite wrong and that it's quite a hefty film. After all, when I feel sick and dying, I watch it and realize how silly I'm being. It makes me smile. The film is my only psychiatrist, and they don't give out psychiatry diplomas for nothing, now do they?
Poor Cléo, dying Cléo, stupid Cléo, wonderful Cléo, beautiful Cléo, living Cléo, masterpiece Cléo!