Cléo from 5 to 7 (French: Cléo de 5 à 7) is a 1962 Left Bank film by Agnès Varda. The story starts with a young singer, Florence "Cléo" Victoire, at 5pm on June 21, as she waits until 6:30pm to hear the results of a medical test that will possibly confirm a diagnosis of cancer. The film is noted for its handling of several of the themes of existentialism, including discussions of mortality, the idea of despair, and leading a meaningful life. The film also has a strong feminine viewpoint belonging to French feminism and raises questions about how women are perceived, especially in French society. The role of mirrors are prevalent to symbolize self-obsession, which Cléo embodies.
The film includes cameos by Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina, Eddie Constantine and Jean-Claude Brialy as characters in the silent film Raoul shows Cléo and Dorothée, while composer Michel Legrand, who wrote the film's score, plays "Bob the pianist". It was entered into the 1962 Cannes Film Festival.
Cléo Victoire (played by Corinne Marchand) is having a tarot card reading with a fortune teller, who tells her that there is a widow in Cléo's life, who is completely devoted to her, but is also a terrible influence (her maid, Angèle). The fortune teller also sees that Cléo has recently met a generous young man, which she confirms, claiming that she doesn't see him too often, but he got her into the music industry. There is also an evil force in Cléo's life: a doctor. The fortune teller then pulls the hanged man card, meaning that Cléo is ill, potentially with cancer. She then proceeds to pull the death tarot card, and Cléo requests that the fortune teller read her palm. After examining her lifeline, the fortune teller remains silent before telling Cléo that she does not read hands, leading for Cléo to believe that she is doomed.
While distraught from her visit to the fortune teller, Cléo reminds herself "as long as I'm beautiful, I'm alive" and that death is ugly. She meets her maid, Angèle, at a café and recounts the results of the reading she received from the fortune teller, claiming that if it's cancer, she'll kill herself. Cléo cries in the café, even though there are people around, including the owner of the café. Cléo and Angèle proceed to go hat shopping, where Cléo only pays attention to the black fur hats, despite Angèle constantly reminding her that it's summertime. The black hats all beckon her, but she eventually picks out a black, winter hat. Cléo wants to wear the hat home, but Angèle reminds her that it's Tuesday, and it's bad luck to buy something new on a Tuesday. They have the shopkeeper send the hat to Cléo's home, and Cléo and Angèle take a taxi home in time for Cléo's rehearsal. The taxi driver is a woman, and Cleo and Angele find her to be an interesting character.
On the ride home, one of Cléo's songs plays, and they listen to the radio, discussing current news including The Algerian War, rebels who have been recently arrested, the Vienna Conference, President John F. Kennedy of the United States, and even Édith Piaf's recent surgery. Towards the end of the taxi ride back, Cléo grows nauseous and attributes it to her illness. Upon returning home, Cléo cannot breathe, and Angèle tells her to do some exercise in response. Angèle helps her change into her clothes for rehearsal while Cléo is stretching out on a pullout bar. She then lights a cigarette and relaxes in her bed. Before Cléo's lover, the man who the fortune teller mentioned earlier, enters the building, Angèle tells Cléo to not tell him that she's ill because men hate weakness. Her lover, a very busy man, tells her that he only has time to stop by for a kiss and that he'll be able to take her on vacation soon. Cléo tells him that she's ill, but he doesn't take her seriously. Cléo thinks that she's too good to men who are all egoists, which Angèle agrees with.
Once Cléo's lover leaves, Bob the pianist and Maurice arrive at her home for her rehearsal. Bob and Maurice pretend to be doctors once Angèle tells them that Cléo is ill, because "all women like a good joke." However, Cléo does not find their joke funny, because no one is taking her illness seriously but her. Bob goes to the piano, and they begin to practice some of Cléo's songs and Cléo's mood quickly darkens after singing the song "Sans Toi." Cléo feels like all that people do is exploit her and that it won't be long until she's just a puppet for the music industry. After saying that everyone spoils her but no one loves her, Cléo leaves everyone behind in her home.
On the way to a café, Cléo passes a street performer swallowing frogs and spitting them back out on a huge wave of water. She then plays one of her songs at a jukebox and is upset when no one in the café seems to notice the music playing in the background. Instead of remaining at the café for longer, Cléo goes to a sculpting studio to visit her old friend, Dorothée, who is sculpting nude for an artist. Once she's finished, Dorothée claims that her body makes her happy, not proud, and Dorothée drives Cléo to her home in her car. Cléo tells her friend that she is dying of cancer, and breaks a mirror, which Cléo claims is a bad omen. However, on their drive the two women pass a crime scene where a man was killed, and Dorothée tells her that the broken mirror was meant for that man, not Cléo. Dorothée returns the car to her lover, who works with film, and they show Cléo the new comedy he's been working on, which jokingly shows a woman dying. Cléo and Dorothée then take a taxi to drop Dorothée off at her own home.
Once dropping Dorothée off at her apartment, Cléo has the taxi driver take her to a park. By a bridge on a river, Cléo meets Antoine, a soldier on leave from the Algerian War. Antoine helps Cléo realize her selfishness, and asks that she accompany him to the station to return to the war if he accompanies her to the hospital to get her test results back. Before leaving, Antoine confides in Cléo about his thoughts on the war, and that in Algeria, they die for nothing, and that scares him. He also tells Cléo that girls always seem to be afraid to give themselves completely to someone and that they're afraid of losing something close to them, so they love by halves. Cléo realizes that that describes her perfectly. Antoine and Cléo go to the hospital by a bus, and the doctor who tested Cléo for her possible cancer isn't in, despite the fact that he told her he'd be present at 7 pm that day. Cléo and Antoine sit on a bench outside, as Cléo is still determined that the doctor will be there. While Cléo has come to terms with her illness and is able to face the test results with courage thanks to Antoine's help, the doctor rolls by in his car and tells her that Cléo will be fine and completely cured with two months of treatment. Cléo is relieved to hear this, and tells Antoine that they have plenty of time together before he leaves to go back to Algeria as a soldier. For the first time in at least two hours, Cléo is finally happy.Corinne Marchand as Cléo
José Luis de Vilallonga as José, Cléo's lover
Loye Payen as Irma
Dominique Davray as Angèle
Serge Korber as Maurice
Dorothée Blanck as Dorothée
Raymond Cauchetier as Raoul
Michel Legrand as Bob
Antoine Bourseiller as Antoine
Robert Postec as Doctor Valineau
Jean Champion as the café owner
Jean-Pierre Taste as the waiter at the café
Renée Duchateau as the seller of hats
Lucienne Marchand as the taxi driver
While the film takes place in France, away from the Algerian front, the influence of Algerian war for independence is still strong. The war for greatly affected France during the 1950s and 1960s, where the demands for decolonization were the strongest. The soldier who Cléo meets towards the end of the film, Antoine, is on temporary leave from fighting in Algeria. Antoine also builds on the theme of existentialism that the film conveys, with his claims that the people in Algeria are dying for nothing. There are also protests on the street that Cléo encounters while taking a taxi back to her home.
Cléo from 5 to 7 embodies the stereotypes that men subject women to and their oppressiveness. Cléo commonly complains that no one takes her seriously since she's a woman, and that the men think that she's faking her illness for attention. She seems to go along with these stereotypes as well, as many women in France did, telling herself essentially that beauty is everything by saying "as long as I'm beautiful, I'm alive."
France experienced a sudden rise in the practice of existentialism and existential thoughts and philosophies in the 1940s, which remained prominent through the 1960s. Cléo from 5 to 7 is largely an existential film, as for the entirety of the film, Cléo struggles with her existence and the potential of facing her mortality. The impending results of her medical exam and the mere possibility that she may be diagnosed with cancer leaves Cléo open to an existential mind where she is aware of her own mortality. Further, upon meeting Antoine, the soldier talks about the deaths of the Algerian War, and that they are dying for nothing and without a purpose, further appealing to the existential philosophy.