the briefest window of time
not quite sure how i've made it to 37 yrs old w/o once ever seeing agnes varda's cleo 5 to 7 but that was corrected last night at the nw film center. despite a late arrival which had us in the front row, straining backs and necks, and despite the air temp which was hovering around the 'arctic blast' setting, i was transfixed, mesmerized. The film is about - this gives nothing away really - 2 hrs in a parisian woman's life as she waits for the results of an oncologic test. Setting aside all the technical and musical and acting choices that make this film so stunning (if it's even possible to extract them to consider a lone element of an artwork) the concept alone speaks to my soul. Well, no not the concept, let's say something that operates at that particular frequency - the endless fusion of life and death. Living in the face of impending certain oblivion, which admittedly we are all doing - me as i type this, you as you read it - but living here not the mere intake of breath, or the mere contemplation of the oblivion, i mean, yes it can contain those things but it's something else. not living in spite of death really but maybe living because of death, if the distinction is clear. honoring and acknowledging what's coming and not blocking it but rushing in headlong. granted, this is an easier concept to swallow when you're not waiting to hear if you're toting around a terminal cancer, which is to say, that even thinking like this is a sort of luxury that those unexposed to life-threatening trauma (not that it has to be illness either) don't even know that they are luxuriating in. When the gun is to your head you do not at first contemplate the vagaries and beauties of living and the quick, shimmering collection of moments your life is...
...but i guess also you do. You understand it at some molecular level at that instant but not in a practicable or transferrable way - after all your life hinges on the next treatment, surgery, recovery, diagnosis, assessment, prognosis. After clearing those hurdles, maybe years later, you may find yourself sitting somewhere stuck in traffic, thinking about student loans, what to have for dinner and those gun at the temple memories are like wandering ghosts - full of power but non-material, wisps of smoke - and how are you to incorporate their teachings? Maybe the gun at the temple was anomalous not transformative? Maybe the reality is what is right here, in the room with you, the traffic in your lane, the daily frustrations and the ghosts are merely your own personal private reserve of memory? Moving further on you start to glean that it's not either but both.
In any case, while the film was a grand and perfect illustration of the power of art for me the following bit was overheard outside afterward: "...i guess i'm more of a hollywood in the 40's film noir person than french new wave. i mean, i liked it but about 30 minutes in i could have left and had dinner. i mean, it was cute...."
there are many terms you could apply to a french new wave film that happens to embody life and death and fragile beauty of youth but i can think of none more dismissive or idiotic than 'cute'. Of course if you're not attuned to particular frequencies you're not going to receive the signal. This has nothing to do w/ cinematic intelligence or acumen and everything to do with the luxury i mentioned earlier, a life free of trauma at least to date, a luxury that at one point we all get and a luxury that we all invariably lose.