Cléo from 5 to 7

Two days ago, singer Cléo (Corinne Marchand) underwent some tests to determine if she has stomach cancer, and how bad it is. She is scheduled to visit the hospital at 7pm, in two hours time, so whiles away the inbetween hours wandering the streets, first having her fortune told before going to a cafe with her maid (Dominique Davray), having a meeting with two musical collaborators (Serge Korber and Michel Legrand) spending time with a friend (Dorothée Blanck) before meeting a soldier (Antoine Bourseiller) in the park and eventually making her way to the hospital to receive her results.
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A farmer finds a woman frozen to death in a ditch one morning, her face blue and her body curled up and contorted, and appearing to the police as if she has been swimming in a vat of wine. Nobody knows where she came from, but the narrator of this film, director Agnes Varda, provides a series of mock-interviews and flashbacks through which the last few months of the girl’s life are shown, primarily through the eyes of the many and various people she encountered along the way.

This is not my kind of film. I haven’t seen a lot of French new wave, but what I have I’ve not been much of a fan of. There’s always too much gratuitous nudity and too little plot, and they without fail all suffer from a severe case of style over substance. Varda, a new wave graduate, ticks off this checklist with flair and aplomb in this rather tedious and pointless affair.

The girl’s name is Mona Bergeron (Sandrine Bonnaire), a woman who chose to throw away her life amidst civilisation because she was tired of being bossed around at work, and instead wanders the land in search of the next packet of cigarettes. Mona is deeply unlikable and does herself no favours in terms of looking for help. She has no qualms whatsoever about leeching off the kindness of strangers, be it for housing, care or sustenance, and I’m fairly sure the phrase “Thank you” has never once departed from her lips. Uncouth and unclean, with an odour you can almost smell through the DVD, it is a wonder anyone has ever stopped to help. At one point, a man spontaneously buys her a sandwich when she looks longingly at his, after which she never even looks at the guy again, let alone talks to or thanks. 

This film succeeded in making me increasingly annoyed at this person who, even when offered the chance to start a new life for herself, retaining her freedom and living out one of her dreams, she still shows no signs of wanting to and is inevitably kicked out and sent on her way. By the end, I wasn’t exactly happy about the direction she was taking, but I didn’t mind too much either. There are some people the world is probably better without.

I approved of the fact that everyone who Mona encountered saw her differently. She is described as a hippy, a dreamer, a dropout, a cautionary tale, a drinking buddy and an object of desire – though how anyone finds her attractive is beyond me, I’m nothing but repulsed by every inch of her. One girl, Yolande, a caretaker for an elderly woman, only briefly catches a glimpse of Mona as she lays in the arms of a random boy – who is the kind of insufferable twit who wears a locked padlock as a necklace, to which he has purposefully thrown away the key to. Yolande sees this vision of undying love and seems to base the rest of her life on it, as she re-evaluates her own romance-free relationship with her partner, completely oblivious of the fact that not two days later Mona has left her man and headed on her way, never to see him again. Apparently she only liked him for his weed.

As you’ve probably ascertained, this is a film I’m unlikely to ever re-visit. It’s meandering, directionless style and horrendously unlikable lead are enough to put anyone off, and the random nature of it’s subplots – at one point using a spontaneous electrocution to move the ‘plot’ along – is occasionally jarring but always tedious.

Choose life 3/10