The historic non-profit cinema with the good projection system that’s the place to go for your 70mm screenings of Dunkirk or the only theatrical run of Roma in the city or like, a 35mm print of Xanadu (I love u guys), showed Cléo de 5 à 7 this month to celebrate the work of Agnès Varda (1928-2019), following in the spirit of this year’s Cannes Festival, which had unearthed this gem of a photo for their official poster. Incidentally, my unironic pet fave Rocketman had its premiere at Cannes (out of competition), and would later wind up billed alongside Cléo at the Hollywood that night, filling me with such joy. Black & white Left Bank classics to rainbow Elton John musicals: THIS IS THE MOVIES. And I love it all. Shine on, you crazy diamonds.
Wildly enough, their French connection (lol), shared marquee, or the fact that I watched both with a drink (red wine for the Parisian film, naturellement, a tequila & hibiscus situation called The Dread Pirate Roberts for Elton, also naturally)*, were not the last unexpected links between these two films. Turns out there is an extended sequence in Cléo from 5 to 7 where the eponymous Cléo, a glamorous ’60s pop singer, drifts around the piano in her jaw-dropping white apartment (the entire theater gasped when we first saw it) while her lyricist and composer playfully make up songs with her, in an entirely charming and sweet and ultimately quite emotional scene shot with such inventive movement.
So much of Cléo was like that, these extraordinarily likable sequences that feel so fresh despite their nearly 60 years. You can tell that young Agnès Varda, in only her second film (my girl!), knew every second that she was making a Movie, capital M, and was so enamored with all the possibilities. Zero pretension or posturing in her artistry, either, all for the joy and expression and vibrant feeling of it. The movie is technically an hour and a half memento mori, as a young woman waits until 6:30pm when she can call her doctor for the results of a cancer biopsy, and yet it is, beautifully, one of the most alive movies I’ve ever watched. The way Varda depicts the city, its movement and its people, is so present you can almost feel it tingling on your skin. It is like a time capsule of a midcentury summer solstice in Paris, scooped up on film and cut into a gem that will sparkle forever. (The Hollywood Theatre screened it on June 20th—you love to see it.)
There’s a bit of dialogue in this that I’m trying to remember, just this throwaway conversation Varda slipped in for no other discernible reason than texture and curiosity and delight, no other reason than cinema. Cléo is winding through a crowded café with her brandy, and she passes a table where people are discussing art: “The painting’s called ‘Woman’. I see a bull. That proves Miro’s Spanish,” one says. “Picasso’s owl’s look like women,” another responds, “What does that prove?” I nearly collapsed into my wine. And you can too: Agnès Varda’s magnificent Cléo de 5 à 7 is streaming free on Kanopy with a library card.
*it’s not that you can drink at every movie theater in Portland, but, it is a lot of them