As I mentioned in class on Monday, Cleo from 5 to 7 remains one of the best examples of the French New Wave for many reasons. First, the film is one of the few made by women during this very vibrant period in film history. For the usual reasons, women were not part of the filmmaking fun in this rather male-dominated scene. The fact that Varda was able to break through the gender barrier is certainly remarkable.
Second, the film ties into very contemporary city life. You get a lot of scenes that feature Parisian life quite prominently, especially those parts that young Parisians would find familiar. One such scene is the cafe scene when Cleo enters in plays her song on the radio to see if she can get anyone’s attention. The personalities and conversations in that scene would have rung familiar to anyone in the city at the time.
Third, the film features rather visibly, the concern for formal experimentation and political voice for which the so-called Left Bank filmmakers became known. The formal element of the film was exposed through its chapter structure, which were very clearly seen on screen. Although the story is about Cléo, other characters get their own internal voices portrayed on screen and the chapter titles make that break from the film’s narration quite clear. An early example is when we see Angèle at the cafe trying to console an inconsolable Cléo.
There’s also a fair amount of politics involved, too. You can see that in the clip where Cléo and Angèle are driving around in the taxi cab, and we hear the radio news cover Algeria, which was arguably one of the biggest events of the early 1960s in France and was covered repeatedly by the French New Wave filmmakers.
And, of course, there’s an undeniable element of human drama. The final shot of the film, with Antoine and Cléo looking off into the distance, marks a huge departure from the self-centeredness Cléo exhibits throughout most of the film.