ONE SCENE | Cléo from 5 to 7

Cléo becomes multidimensional in a hat shop.

 

“Everything suits me,” says Cléo with sheer delight as she exhausts a hatter’s stock. Cléo from 5 to 7, a film concerned above all with appearances, makes good use of its subject matter, as illustrated by scenes such as these. Mirrors and clothes, the washed-out symbols of shallow artifice, carry the weight of the film’s storytelling. For all the night-before-the-deadline “female gaze” analysis Varda’s film has suffered, it remains an expert study in the thrills and perils of seeing and being seen. 

Varda nudges us along by making liberal use of these props very early on. In the film’s opening sequence, Cléo meets with a tarot reader who appears to confirm her fears of a cancer diagnosis, drawing the death card and refusing to read the lifeline of her palm. Cléo receives the news wearing a polka-dotted sleeveless frock and a dark underskirt, a pantomime image of a young starlet in trouble. 

We see Cléo’s tarot being read from a single, static camera hovering above the table. The cards are shuffled and fanned, but always form a fixed grid eventually. The flights of freedom offered by the random pick-a-cards and reshuffles reaffirm Cléo’s preordained fate. The world it seems, is rigged against her, decided in advance. From there, after a stopgap cry in a café, she goes hat shopping. 

Here, contra the fixity of the fortune-teller scene, Cléo encounters herself in joyful ambiguity. If the cards calcify her self-image, the multiple mirrors that fill up the hat shop crack it open. Who she is and ought to be is off the agenda. She is left to bask in her own indecision, trying on most of what’s in stock as the camera surfs through the shop, dazzling the viewer with interlocking reflections. 

 

Cléo from 5 to 7 is part of TANK’s season Beyond Varda. Subscribe for just £3 a month for access to a new film every week.