Cléo from 5 to 7

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Cléo from 5 to 7
Original Poster to the 1962 Left Bank film Cléo from 5 to 7.jpg
Original poster
Directed by Agnès Varda
Produced by Georges de Beauregard
Carlo Ponti
Written by Agnès Varda
Starring Corinne Marchand
Antoine Bourseiller
Dominique Davray
Dorothée Blanc
Michel Legrand
Music by Michel Legrand
Cinematography Jean Rabier
Alain Levent
Edited by Rose Sokol
Janine Verneau
Release dates
  • 11 April 1962 (1962-04-11)
Running time
90 minutes
Country France
Language French

Cléo from 5 to 7 (French: Cléo de 5 à 7) is a 1962 Left Bank film by Agnès Varda.[1] 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.[2]

Historical context[edit]

The Algerian War[edit]

Main article: Algerian War

The war for Algerian Independence greatly affected France during the 1950s and 1960s, where the demands for decolonization were the strongest.[3] Despite the global movement for decolonization in the early years of the Cold War, France was hesitant to give up their colonial claims in Algeria.[3] The Algerian nationalism for independence began with the formation of the National Liberation Front, throwing the entire country into a crisis for independence from France.[3] On the Algerian front, nationalists employed terrorist attacks and guerrilla tactics to overcome their French colonial ties.[4]

While the film takes place in France, away from the Algerian front, the influence of this war for independence is still strong. 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.[1]

Feminism in France[edit]

See also: social feminism

Before the two World Wars in France, gender roles were enforced thoroughly throughout Western Europe. In France specifically, the woman of the family was meant to be the "femme au foyer," or "woman of the home" in English making them responsible for the wellbeing of their family.[3] During the early post-war period, Europe was in turmoil with social disorders and food shortages; women were often widowed by World War II and were expected to be domestic and provide relief for their families.[3] The feminist movement in France began much later than the rest of the world, especially the United States. Women were granted their suffrage in 1944 by Charles de Gaulle, as a means of thanking women for their support during World War II.[5]

The student protests in May 1968 against the authoritarian rule of de Gaulle created a France in which feminist activism could thrive.[5] Politics in France were dominated by the oppressive white male; focused on their party ideologies, these men were not open to hearing the opinions of the women who claimed that they were being oppressed by sexism. The diversity of feminist groups in France was great during the 1970s, and many agreed that the cause of their oppression was men, whereas some blamed the capitalist system instead [5] Following the example of the United States' feminist movement and Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, French novelist and existentialist Simone de Beauvoir published The Second Sex in 1949, which would eventually become monumental in the French feminist movement.[3] de Beauvoir describes the issue of the masculine stereotyping of women as weak and inferior to men.[6] This social construct of women stood in the way of their free equality to men, despite the fact that they had been granted the right to vote years earlier.[3] There is a certain mystery to the woman, and how she is described as the "other" in relation to man, and how the concept of "femininity" has been fashioned to hold the woman back. Their dependence on men prevents their complete membership to the human race.[7]

Europeans embraced the idea of "social feminism" and the notion that women are not the same as men, another point that de Beauvoir makes in The Second Sex.[3] Thus, women could not pursue the exact opportunities and support that men in the workforce received; the French feminist movement often focused on the psychological and physiological differences between men and women.[3] In their activism for feminism, women emphasized their reproductive rights in a France where motherhood was to be an obligation.[5] Women campaigned for the right to abortion, and a law legalizing abortion was granted in the 1970s.[5]

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."[1]

Existentialism in France[edit]

Main article: Existentialism

France experienced a sudden rise in the practice of existentialism and existential thoughts and philosophies in the 1940s, which remained prominent through the 1960s.[8] This rise in existentialism can be credited to Jean-Paul Sartre, who began writing with existential themes in the 1940s.[9] Sartre's works dealt with the idea of existence being prior to essence, and the fact that men exist while being aware of their mortality, thus in a state of existential dread.[9]

The existential philosophy was able to take such a strong intellectual hold on French society due to the fact that existentialism served as a means, for many Frenchmen, to make sense of their recent past.[8] World War II brought devastation to not only France, but the rest of Europe and the world. Between the German military administration in occupied France during World War II and the civil wars for independence that took over the post-war era, intellectuals in France were looking for a way to cope with and explain the war experience.[8] The immediate post-war era brought the publication of many famous existential novels in France. For Sartre, Being and Nothingness was published as one of the earliest existential texts in 1943.[9] Another prominent existential mind in the post-war era was Algerian author Albert Camus, who published The Plague in 1947 and The Stranger in 1942. Sartre also insisted that people are responsible for all of the consequences of their actions, and that no one can escape responsibility; this notion of responsibility further appealed to the post-war world, as many tried to escape responsibility during World War II.[8]

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.[1]

Plot synopsis[edit]

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 with a female taxi driver, who the two women find 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 days, Cléo is finally happy.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e "Cleo from 5 to 7". Retrieved 2014-03-17. 
  2. ^ "Festival de Cannes: Cléo from 5 to 7". Retrieved 2009-02-22. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hunt, Michael H. (2014). World transformed, 1945 to the present. [S.l.]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199372348. 
  4. ^ Jones, Jim. "Algerian Independence". History 312. 
  5. ^ a b c d e Keeley, Kirsten (April 1997). "Direct and Indirect Effects of Feminist Actions on Women 's Rights in France". Illinois Wesleyan University Digital Commons. 
  6. ^ Sink, Nancy. "Women's Liberation Movement". History 315. 
  7. ^ de Beauvoir, Simone. "The Second Sex: Introduction". 
  8. ^ a b c d Baert, Patrick (14 September 2011). "The sudden rise of French existentialism: a case-studyin the sociology of intellectual life". Springer Science and Business Media. 

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