Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Michel Legrand from 1962 to 2012

It has been 50 years since the release of Agnès Varda's Cleo from 5 to 7. The film follows an attractive French popular singer in real time as she drifts anxiously across Paris, waiting on the results of a medical test. There are many reasons to love the film. The beautiful Corinne Marchand plays Cleo whose popular fame has brought with it a paranoia that is a hallmark of the film: as she stalks through Left Bank cafes one could be forgiven for imagining having seen Sartre at a table, whose own ideas find form on the screen. The skittishness of Cleo and her perilous grip on her own sense of purpose or even mortality are grist to the mill of the New Wave with its choppy editing, restless camera and street-level photorealism. It's quite a technical document. It's also a refreshingly proto-feminist piece given Agnès Varda's attention to the women's perspective. I couldn't help but think just how far away Betty Garrett's girl-as-guy cabbie of On The Town is from Lucienne Marchand's French taxi driver in her sleek, modern Citroen DS.

Yet if the film has one significant draw above others it might be an early scene in which Cleo is visited by her songwriter to try out new material. The role of the songwriter - 'Bob the pianist' - is taken by none other than the film's score composer Michel Legrand. He's a natural in front of the camera (given the relative informality of the New Wave aesthetic) and of course fulfils the role of the musician of high facility without affectation. Here he is:

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