Monday, December 28, 2020

Cléo from 5 to 7

The Summer Solstice

There's no better walkthrough of Cléo from 5 to 7 [Cléo de 5 à 7, 1962] than Varda's own 36-minute 2005 documentary Remembrances et souvenirs [Remembrances and Souvenirs — in French the last word refers both to memories and souvenirs literal and as-memories]. She explains that her intention in beginning the film in color during the tarot-reading scene was to depict a gradual but decisive shift from fiction (the tarot) to reality (the close-ups of Cléo [Corinne Marchand], née Florence, and the medium, shot like the remainder of the film in black-and-white). Bad omens: the drawing of the Hanged Man and Death cards. But I'd take issue with two of Varda's remarks: (1) The film actually varies between: a documentary-like medium-contrast black-and-white (see the scenes of Cléo turning pedestrians' heads on the sidewalk and café, among other passages that recall L'Opéra-Mouffe) — this would  represent 'reality,' such as it is; and: a high-contrast, soft-edged black-and-white that represents 'surreality.' (cf. a pasted-ad for Buñuel's Un chien andalou.) Later in Remembrances et souvenirs she acknowledges as much by relating how DP Jean Rabier placed a green-filter over the lens of the shots in the Parc Montsouris so that the green lawn behind Cléo and Antoine (Antoine Bourseiller, the father of Varda's first child, Rosalie) would adopt a magical, snow-like character. (As Antoine remarks here, though referring to Cléo's test results: "It could be something else."(2) Varda suggests that the medium, portrayed by a non-professional actor (note the abutment with Marchand, a professional performer in this prologue that sets forth the contrasts between fiction and non-fiction), puts a spin on the reading of the Hanged Man and Death cards to soften their implications, when the cards almost certainly (in reality) portend destruction. How then can the cards be read as sheerly a fictional device? My personal interpretation of tarot is that the reading of the cards can speak to a tacit outcome, a Fate (a fait accompli) or taken in whichever sequence one might apply, a conduit for multiple narrative possibilities, a labyrinth of sorts wherein you 'choose your own adventure,' a conduit for multiple narrative outcomes.

Just as Varda explores the interchange or Venn-zone between fiction and non-fiction, destiny and free will, so too does she posit, and admits explicitly in Remembrances et souvenirs to, formulating in Cléo from 5 to 7 the overlap of quantified-time and experienced-time (la durée). Hence the breakdown of minutes in the chapter heading titles for each sequence, and hence: (a) the unreliability (and practical unfeasibility) of matching that precise length of time with the onscreen shots of which the scene consists (a difficulty astonishingly overcome in the sung-films of Jacques Demy with Michel Legrand — who appears in Cléo as Composer Bob, in one of those weird amateur performances); which in turn (b) nevertheless aligns with the sense of duration. Time occasionally moves too fast, other times too slow. Cléo finds herself caught in the middle as she awaits the test results confirming a malignant tumor. With the film effectively ending at 6:30pm, not 7pm, Varda invokes time in all its cruelty, lopping the proceedings off before their 'promised' end. At the same time, all possibilities exist for Cléo and Antoine in their final gaze before a cut to black, with no "FIN" in sight.

(The sense of experienced-time, of 'zonings-out,' is given further expression in the looped close-up of Cléo descending the staircase from the medium's flat [which Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos perceptively point out in their 2016 FilmStruck video-essay The Music of Michel Legrand belongs to a 1 - 2 - 3 pattern that corresponds to the beat of her footsteps; see aforementioned Demy strenuousness, here exhibited in digest], a multi-jump-cut in Le Dôme [at which café Cléo will later be seen to have dodged a literal bullet] during the "Quelques autres" section, a few frames shaved off the back of Cléo's head in a subsequent scene, a single jump-cut during a taxi ride after dropping off Dorothée [Dorothée Blanck/Blanks] that evokes two of the car sequences in Godard's Breathless, at the ring of the bell as Cléo and Antoine board the bus, and twice in succession as the trolley stops at its destination, La Pitié.)

The internal and the external, objective and subjective. How many times does Cléo stare into a mirror, examining whether or not her beauty has begun to fade at the prospect of dying? (Snow White of the Park Lawns, in "the crystal bier" as Legrand's chanson "Sans toi" ["Without You"] imagines; later echoed by the infant in the incubator carried by the interns outside of the hospital, a scene likened directly to Snow White.) Once again, as in The Fiances of the Pont Mac Donald, inserted in the middle of Cléo from 5 to 7 in its entirety, we look back to Cocteau's Orphée, and the mirrors, and the messenger-angels of death. Cléo's is a vanity born out of the absolute fear; Bergman's clocks tick away — except in Cléo's apartment, where they're all stopped.

(In the background of one shot, the word "DEUIL" can be read on a shopfront — "MOURNING." Later, before Cléo's and Antoine's arrival at La Pitié, "POMPES FUNÈBRES," or "FUNERAL DIRECTOR'S.")

The death theme (or, not a theme so much as a subject) also finds a correlative in the taxi radio broadcast and later the encounter with Antoine which bring into the mix the Algerian conflict. Grim and gallows-ironic that in 2020 "the current toll: 20 dead and 60 wounded" should seem but a pittance of loss.

Post-face: Varda had Pierre-William Glenn shoot in 2005 a video-doc with a scooter-mounted camera tracing Cléo's route through the film. It's called Les trajets réels de Cléo dans Paris filmées 44 ans plus tard par Pierre-William Glenn, Superchéfop', Supermotard [The Real Routes of Cléo in Paris Filmed 44 Years Later by Pierre-William Glenn, SuperDP, Supermotoman]. It lasts around 9 minutes all-in, shown at 2x speed, and a closing title tells us that in natural time on a moped the whole thing would last around 17. The durée, however, is not projected. • 


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