The most wonderful thing about Cléo from 5 to 7 is its air of freedom, evoked, paradoxically, within the very severe constraints of its real-time format, which must have posed a thousand challenges during shooting and postproduction. The film is superbly playful, poking occasional holes in its own carefully built illusion of cascading moments—such as when an early shot of Cléo descending stairs is repeated, in an editing loop, three times (an evident reference to Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase), or when she disappears behind a paravent to reappear instantly in a new outfit.
Rich color gives way to black and white after the credits, one of many reminders of the artifice of cinema. The potentially least attractive aspect of Cléo’s character, her propensity to act out at the drop of a hat, provides the film with its unique, modern register: this is, in a humorous, almost camp way, a histrionic film, lightly exaggerating itself at every turn—as, for instance, in the impossible proliferation of mirrors and reflective surfaces wherever Cléo finds herself, indoors or outdoors, and in the delightful silent-film-within-the-film pastiche featuring Godard, Anna Karina, and Jean-Claude Brialy (the trio had just worked together on A Woman Is a Woman).
-- Adrian Martin hos Criterion.