Film Review of Cléo from 5 to 7

By: Fahad Alden, College of Fine Arts Humanities and Social Sciences Well-being Leader

In Agnès Varda’s film, Cléo from 5 to 7, Cleo is a popular and sensational young singer. Throughout the story, she is anxious about her potential cancer diagnosis.

The film’s organization of looks within the scene plays a crucial role in conveying the protagonist’s inner turmoil and existential crisis. The film diverges from classical Hollywood norms in its treatment of background characters—older men in cafes, women posing for pictures, musicians playing instruments—who are not merely decorative but are given depth and subjectivity. The film depicts older men with their own concerns and conflicts, young women who balance modeling as well as performing with dignity and respect, and musicians performing music and art. This approach humanizes them, portraying their inner lives and concerns, breaking away from the traditional objectification often seen in classical Hollywood cinema, and allowing each character a moment in the spotlight.

The scene balances spectacle and narrative through its meticulous attention to detail and the portrayal of Cléo’s anxieties. The fast and intense cuts, along with unexpected shifts in perspective, mirror Cléo’s state of mind, emphasizing her anxiety and uncertainty about her cancer diagnosis like a punch in the gut. Cléo grapples with her impending fate while staring down the barrel of mortality.

Her characterization as a French pop singer evokes modern celebrity consumerism and celebrity obsession. Itdepicts “celebrity-narcissism, [and with[ her taste for Tarot readings and various other superstitious signs, Cléo could well be a Paris Hilton-type, plugged into New Age fads” (Martin, 2015). As she contemplates her existence, her vanity relaxes as her anxieties swell (Hutchinson, n.d.). This becomes clear when “she discards her whipped-cream wig and polka dots for a simple black shift. She performs less and feels more” (Hutchinson, n.d.).

The film’s mode of address transcends assumptions about the spectator’s gender, encouraging empathy and identification with Cléo’s struggles. While it acknowledges the male gaze inherent in French New Wave cinema, it also flips the script by boldly portraying Cléo as a complex and multidimensional character, rather than a mere object of desire. The scene privileges narrative depth over fetishistic scopophilia, focusing on Cléo’s emotional journey rather than exploiting her physical appearance for voyeuristic pleasure.


Hutchinson, P. (n.d.). BFI – Cleo from 5 to 7. BFI. Retrieved February 14, 2024, from

Martin, A. (2015, March). Cleo from 5 to 7. Film Critic.