Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cleo from 5 to 7 and Le Bonheur

The two Agnes Varda films that we saw offer an insightful look of the common dualities of the female image: girl/woman and Madonna/whore. In Cleo from 5 to 7 depicts a young woman waiting for her results to see if she has stomach cancer. In the beginning of the film, she looks and acts like a girl trapped in a woman’s body with her polka-dot dress and her poufy hair. However, she starts to transition from girl to woman in her apartment. She is dressed in a silk robe, which I can imagine to be pink, which a feathery collar while performing childlike exercises like hanging on the monkey bars and swinging while surrounded by kittens. When her composer and her lyricist visit her, the first couple of songs sound very childish, a girl pretending to be a woman, with titles like “Jouer”, which means to play. When she starts singing “Cry of Love”, she continues to sing it like she is pretending to perform in a concert hall. But halfway through the song, the words seem to hit home and she sings it as an expression of her feelings. Once she removes her poodle-like hairpiece in a fit of hysterics and puts on a black dress, she looks like a grown woman ready to accept her fate.

In Le Bonheur, Varda forces the viewer to reexamine the Madonna/whore complex given to all women. Women either fit in one category or another. In films, this dynamic is clear by having the two women contrast each other, usually blond versus brunette, city versus country, poor versus rich, with the mistress typically labeled the whore. Varda demystifies this concept by casting two similar looking actresses to play the devoted wife and the mistress. Oftentimes, they dressed similarly in flower-printed dresses symbolizing their life-giving presence they give to Fran├žois. And up to the wife’s death, both women appear to have the same easygoing temperament. With the wife’s death, Varda recalls the F.W Murnau film Sunrise with the wife drowning. Although the mistress did not want the wife to die as the woman from the city wanted the wife to die in that film, by recalling the images of Sunrise, Varda seems to show a progression from clearly distinct Madonna/whore shown in that film to the seamless transition of the mistress to wife suggesting a world where women on film cannot be clearly defined by those labels.

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