2016 BlindSpot Series: “Cléo from 5 to 7”



One of most influential movements in cinema came in the form of the French New Wave. Visionary filmmakers like Truffaut, Godard, and Chabrol sought to shatter the formulas and artifices that dominated mainstream movies. These brilliant auteurs redefined the art of cinema while also developing their own distinct styles and unique techniques. Nestled comfortably in the male-dominated movement was Agnès Varda, a pioneering filmmaker who gave the era a strong female voice. Varda was known as the grandmother of the movement and one of her signature films is “Cléo from 5 to 7” from 1962.

The film is about a singer named Cléo (played by Corinne Marchand). She is a tall beautiful picture of health, but we quickly learn she is ill and awaiting test results that could have serious after-effects. The story follows Cléo as she walks through Paris shopping, meeting friends, doing anything she can to take her mind off of the news she expects to receive later that evening. Along the way we see her wrestling with mortality and struggling to maintain any sense of optimism.


At around the halfway point of the film we realize that Cléo is also wrestling with her own identity. She has become exactly what everyone expects her to be. Her superstitious maid treats her like a child. Her musical collaborators don’t take her talents seriously. She is treated like a toy of convenience by her boyfriend. All seem indifferent to her illness and unconcerned about her worries. Cléo takes off on her on and for the last half of the film we see her shedding layers of her old self. It’s a rediscovery of sorts in the two hours left until she is to get her diagnosis.

“Cléo from 5 to 7” is told through a subtle documentarian style – a technique often used by New Wave directors. Varda tells the story in almost real-time allowing us to gather information by simply following Cléo around. Her camera often sits and observes while other times it’s in a constant state of motion. There are some fabulous long tracking shots specifically of car rides around Paris. Then there are quiet but powerful moments where the camera focuses on Marchand’s face. Varda was known as a talented photographer and we see it reflected throughout this film.


Marchand is a nice fit for the role of Cléo. I loved watching her start as a beautiful but scripted human being and then transform into her equally beautiful but truer self. We see her peel off the facade she’s built on other’s expectations and Varda represents this in Cléo both physically and emotionally. The character runs the gamut of emotions which culminates in a final intensely satisfying shot of Marchand’s face. It’s a very interesting and subtly expressive performance that nicely serves Varda’s vision.

“Cléo from 5 to 7” is La Nouvelle Vague through and through. Those unfamiliar with the New Wave movement will instantly notice the artistic uniqueness and nuances that have influenced filmmakers to this day. And after so many years this film still feels like something fresh and innovative. That is a testament to Agnès Varda’s remarkable writing and direction and the pioneer vision that she and so many of these filmmakers maintained.



REVIEW: “Last Love”

Last Love PosterIt’s easy to dismiss a movie like “Last Love” as lightweight and forgettable. It’s not loud or showy nor is it anything new or profound. It’s a movie that you will either latch onto and enjoy or fail to connect with and be utterly bored. Sometimes we get movies like that – films that you either connect with or you don’t. I definitely connected with this 2013 drama written and directed by Sandra Nettelbeck. It also goes by the title of “Mr. Morgan’s Last Love”, but regardless of what you want to call it, it’s an intimate and earnest examination of lost love, fractured families, and the will to live.

The story’s initial plot point puts the film somewhere in between Pixar’s “Up” and Michael Haneke’s “Amour” (a sharp contrast, I know). The great Michael Caine plays a retired philosophy professor named Matthew Morgan. In the film’s first scene we see him sitting at the bedside of his deceased wife in their Paris apartment. Three years pass and Matthew has fallen into a suicidal state of depression. But his life takes an enigmatic turn when he meets a compassionate young Parisian woman named Pauline (Clémence Poésy). She adds a new element to his life that he can’t define. The two strike up a sweet relationship that could potentially fill the overcast voids in their lives.

“Last Love” is based on Francoise Dorner’s novel “La Douceur Assassine”. Nettelbeck’s adaption takes several creative liberties that adds new dimensions while still capturing the charm of the book. Her film is slow-moving and unfolds at a pace that may not suit some people. It worked for me mainly due to the two main characters. I truly cared about Matthew and Pauline and I was drawn to their unlikely relationship. The two share similar feelings of isolation and loneliness and each see things in the other that they want. It’s both lovely and gloomy. It’s desperate and hopeful.

Last Love

As you would expect, Michael Caine is fabulous. He gives a sincere and nuanced performance that is capped with a stinging realism. He demands an emotional commitment from the audience. Caine makes us feel for him and hope his situation improves. But things get worse when Matthew’s two kids arrive from America to check up on him. His son Miles (Justin Kirk) is a smug jerk who is clearly harboring anger from a past experience. Matthew’s daughter Karen (Gillian Anderson) is a self-absorbed and disrespectful snot who feels inconvenienced by having to check on her father. Both Kirk and Anderson are very good and they add a whole new layer to Matthew’s state of being.

But for me, the most captivating performance came from Clémence Poésy. The versatile French actress is essential to the story’s effectiveness. We learn a few details about her character but in many other ways she is a mystery. Her compassion and exuberance are intoxicating but they mask a deeper yearning. In some ways Poésy gives us a character just as sad as Matthew. She is such a good actress and she is the one asked to navigate the trickier character developments. She does so with ease.

“Last Love” is a poignant film about lost souls desperate to plug holes in their lives. It’s charming, sweet, somber, and heartbreaking. Now it does dip its toes into the pool of sentimentality on a few occasions. I’m also struggling with my feelings about the film’s ending. There’s no twist or ambiguity. I’m just not sure how I feel about it. But I do know that I really liked this film. I was unquestionably drawn to the characters, I loved the Paris setting, and the heartfelt story carried me through till the end. This was a small 2013 film seen by few, but it caught my eye and I’m glad it did.


REVIEW: “Midnight in Paris”


Without a doubt the romantic comedy is one of the weaker movie genres and has been for years. But sometimes we get a special gem that reminds us of just how fun these types of movies can be. “Midnight in Paris”, written and directed by Woody Allen, is a crash course in the art of making a romantic comedy. It is loaded with heart and feeling and doesn’t trudge down the same path as so many failed films of this genre. It’s a movie that captures the magic of it’s location and the inner workings of it’s characters. It’s clever and unique while maintaining a true romantic feel and sense of humor.

“Midnight in Paris” opens with a picturesque three-minute montage focusing on the beauty of Paris, France. It gracefully moves from one exquisitely framed shot to another, showing us historical landmarks, museums, cafes, and more all set to the lovely “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere”. It elegantly sets up the city of Paris as not only a central character in the film, but an enchanting and magical force whose influence is seen throughout the picture. In many ways Woody Allen is celebrating Paris. He wants us to love the city and appreciate the mystique of it’s rich history just as much as his main character does. Allen’s desire works. I was instantly grabbed and found myself totally lost in what I was seeing on the screen.


While Paris is at the heart of the story, the main character is Gil Pender (Owen Wilson), a hack Hollywood screenwriter who is visiting the city with his fiancée and her parents. Gil loves everything about Paris and to this day regrets his decision not to move there when he had a chance several years ago. He feels he was meant for more than writing screenplays but he struggles with confidence. He doesn’t feel comfortable in today’s world and believes he would be a better fit in the 1920s. His fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams) is a spoiled momma’s girl who spends more time insulting Gil than supporting him. There is clearly a disconnect between the two. He loves Paris and she doesn’t. He’s working on a novel that he thinks will change his career and she thinks he’s wasting his time. He enjoys the small details in life while she would rather milk it for it’s benefits.

While in Paris they run into Paul (Michael Sheen), Inez’s old friend and self-proclaimed expert on everything from art to French culture to fine wines. Inez seems infatuated with Paul’s knowledge regardless of how many facts he gets wrong in his efforts to impress everyone. Needing to get away, Gil takes off on a late night walk. After getting lost, he is picked up by a group of partiers in an old classic car who magically transport him back to 1920s Paris. Here he meets many of his literary and artistic heroes such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso, and Stein. He also meets the lovely Adriana (played wonderfully by Marion Cotillard) who he grows more attracted to with each midnight visit.

The fantasy turn of Allen’s story did feel a bit out of the blue at first but it didn’t take long before I was enthralled with what I was seeing. Gil’s golden age is recreated flawlessly from the music and atmosphere to the careful attention to detail. I loved seeing these authors, painters, composers, and filmmakers of old fleshed out through some fantastic performances. Tom Hiddleston and Alison Pill are absolutely brilliant as F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. I also loved Marcial Di Fonzo Bo as Picasso and Adrien Brody as Dali, both in smaller but fun roles. And then there’s Corey Stoll as Hemingway who steals many of the scenes he’s in. The supporting cast is such a wonderful ingredient to the film’s charm.


But in terms of acting it’s Owen Wilson that really blew me away. In many ways he plays a character that really fits him. We’ve seen elements of this performance in other roles of his but here everything is perfectly measured and controlled. Even though Woody Allen has stated he gave Wilson a lot of room to work, it’s clear that Allen has a solid influence on his performance. I’ve been really lukewarm concerning most of Wilson’s past work but he really, really impressed me here. He dials it back a bit and never allows his performance to drown out the material.

“Midnight in Paris” does call for the audience to just buy into it’s fantasy angle and if you struggle with that you may struggle with this picture. It also turns out to be fairly predictable in places. But these small gripes do nothing to kill the magic of this picture for me. This is certainly a love letter to Paris, but it’s also a lesson on living in the present. Allen reminds us that the golden age so many long for isn’t that different from where we are now. It’s a beautiful film both visually and structurally and it moves along at an almost poetic pace. Better yet, “Midnight in Paris” is a film that gives us hope for a struggling genre. I love this movie.