Along with the whole army of men who are responsible for starting the French New Wave, one woman also played a major role in that film movement in the late fifties and early sixties. In the mid-1950s, Agnes Varda shot films that today are considered protonoval, i.e. the forerunner of the new wave, and although she started her career as a photographer, she already started shooting experimental, modernist films in the mid-1950s. Her “La Pointe Courte” from 1954 is considered the first film of the French New Wave, and today this director, born in 1928 and passed away in 2019, is called the mother, sometimes even the grandmother, of the New Wave.
However, her most famous and successful film from that period is “Cleo from 5 to 7”, a typical new wave comedy drama in which we follow two hours of the young singer’s life as she waits for the biopsy results. Thus, at five o’clock, we see the young singer Cleo (Corinne Marchand) at the psychic’s, while she reads her tarot and predicts the future. We also understand why Cleo decided to do so. She is convinced that she is sick, that she has cancer and that her life is over practically even before it began, and in those two hours while she waits for the doctor’s results, we will understand and find out everything in her life.
Although “Cleo from 5 to 7” is only a superficial film about a woman who only realizes that she is mortal when the possibility of her being seriously ill arises, it is a modernist, eccentric, real new wave comedy drama about a young woman who wants to live and lives that way as she wants, not as society imposes on her. Just like most new wave films, Varda’s film does not have a classic narrative line, but is more like a series of vignettes, her encounters with people during the period while she is waiting for the doctor’s answer. Although this film deals with topics such as seemingly serious existentialism and facing one’s own mortality, it was shot by Varda in a light, not overly serious spirit.
It is a film with a strong feminist flair and is told from the perspective of a young woman who asks questions about how women are perceived and what their role is in society. Is it the imposed gender role that men have assigned to her, and hers is so exclusively to be beautiful and smiling, to be liked by everyone. Varda mixes reality and fiction in a special way, as in many earlier and later films, and it is interesting that “Cleo from 5 to 7” was recently chosen as the third best film of all time made by a woman.
Although it is completely stupid for me to separate films by whether they were made by men or women, blacks or whites, the only thing that matters to me is whether a film is good or not, according to the choice of Sight & Sound magazine from 2022, it is the 14th best film overall of all time, and of the films made by women, only two films are ahead. One is “Jeanne Dielman” by the Belgian Chantal Ackerman (which I started watching twice and both times I stopped somewhere while the main character is eating soup), while the other is “Beau Travail” by Claire Denis, which also took high places in the overall ranking of the list, which caused enormous controversy and discussions.