One of my favorite films, which I’ve shown to many classes and written about here, is Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), or Cléo de 5 à 7, directed by Agnes Varda. The plot is pure simplicity: a young woman, Cléo, walks through the streets of Paris while awaiting results of a cancer screening. The movie’s title refers to its real-time aesthetic: throughout the film, title cards remind us of the film’s carefully constructed verisimilitude – the film starts at exactly 5:00, clocks in at 5:10 after exactly ten minutes of screen time, displays 5:20 after 20 minutes of screen time, and so on. Filmed and premiered during the height of France’s war with Algeria, soldiers and capricious violence periodically intrude on Cléo’s personal journey, so you might say the film has new relevance as of this week.
Anyway, I wonder what a film of my child Dar from 5 to 7 would look like?
For one thing, it would need to take place in the wee hours of the night, not during the sunny afternoon we see in Varda’s film.
Iris out: someone’s charging iPhone says 5:00am. We see Dar’s parents sleeping, Dar’s 3-year-old brother sleeping, Dar sleeping. He is 6 years old.
Dar awakens. It does not occur to him to simply go back to sleep. Water has been left in a sippy cup for him; he notices it, checks it, and then tosses it forcefully to the ground in a gesture that says “I don’t need this.” He gets out of bed. He peers out of his blackout curtains to the dark starry sky, the brightly lit spire of the new part of the Bay Bridge, and nighttime San Francisco in the distance.
He begins walking around his room. He throws things, making noises. His parents don’t open their eyes, but their R.E.M.s stop, their breathing changes. We can see they’ve woken up.
Dar is making happy noises – “tee-tee-tee.” Happy but loud. His parents shift in bed. Dad whispers “Ferberize?” Mom whispers, “yes.” Dar throws things around his room, like books. They make a lot of clattering noises.
Dar tries his room’s only door. He can’t get it open. He begins screaming. Off and on screaming for a minute. Major screaming, like a kettle on the boil.
“Whose turn?” Dad asks. “Yours,” Mom whispers. More screams. And more screams. “We don’t want his brother to wake up,” Dad says almost to himself.
Dad finally rouses himself. He walks across the hall and opens his child’s door. “What, Dar? What is it?”
Dar says nothing, but cocks his head slightly. Dad’s expression indicates he didn’t really expect anything.
Dad says, “You could have opened this yourself. You could have walked downstairs yourself.” Dar pushes Dad. Dad moves as though this is a familiar ritual. Dad walks downstairs, and Dar follows.
In the living room, Dad finds the remote control, high upon a bookcase in the foyer. He turns on the TV. He lowers the volume to 7: just above a whisper. He says, in a tone almost to himself, “You’ll have to pay close attention Dar.” He changes the channel from HBO to Sprout, which is 770. Some kind of children’s programming is on. He activates the DVR, finds the list of 12 pre-recorded Sesame Street episodes. He chooses one. It starts: “Hi, I’m Murray from Sesame Street, and I’m looking for the word on the street.”
Dar watches it. He also finds other things in the room to throw. He wants all the cushions off all of the couches. He throws them at the brown dog lying on the floor, who jumps up. The dog’s expression is sad, not angry. He just wants his bed to himself.
Dad fast-forwards through the commercials, grumbles about how they didn’t have those when he was a kid. The show’s theme music starts.
Dad walks groggily to the kitchen. He looks at snack cups that have been left out. “Oh, thank God for my wife, I don’t have to make these right now.” One snack cup has Teddy Grahams, one has goldfish crackers, one has Cheerios. Dad brings two of them to the living room. “Which one Dar?” Dar barely says “tuh.” “Point, Dar,” Dad says. Dar’s hand flickers, but doesn’t point. “Just say which one you want.” Dar says “tuh” again and his response isn’t clear. Dad says “Do you want this one?” Another unclear response. “This one, yes or no?” Dar says a very painfully labored “no.” Dad says “Okay, no” and pulls it away. Dar screams. Dad says “You mean yes. Do you want this, no or yes.” Dar says “ahh-sss.” Dad hands it to him, mumbling “I made it too easy.”
Dad heads back to the kitchen, eyes the red fluid in the big bottle of Benadryl. “Can’t believe,” he says to himself, “we gave you two syringes of this and you’re still up. Oh well, at least you waited until 5 this morning.” Dad looks at the bottle again. “But that’s a double-edged sword. If it were 3, of course I’d give you more, but it’s 5:15. You can’t be asleep when we take you to school at 7:30.” EXPOSITION! Somehow forgivable because of a very groggy Dad. “Are you building up immunity? Do we have to ask the doctor for something else? Not loving that this is EVERY DAMN NIGHT. I’m aging a decade this year.”
Dad brings a new sippy cup of water to the living room where Dar is watching Elmo and his friends solve some problem on Sesame Street. Dar also wanders around the room and “tee-tee-tees.” Dad checks the windows; sealed. Front door is chained and deadbolted. “We’re lucky we’re in a corner house, and this room overlooks the corner,” Dad says. “What if this was a condo complex? You’d be waking the neighbors every night.” Dar of course does not react. Dad checks Dar’s diaper. “No poop,” says Dad. “Thank heaven for small favors.”
Dad carefully latch-locks the doors to the living room. He goes back upstairs and climbs into bed with his wife.
Dar makes lots of happy noises as he watches Sesame Street and eats his snack. After he finishes his snack, he tries the locked doors. They don’t open. He screams and screams and screams some more. The dog looks worried. After minutes, Dar finally stops screaming. He sees “primary colors” by Ok Go on Sesame Street and he apparently likes it. He walks up to the TV and smears his hands all over it.
Dad tries to sleep, but can’t. He checks facebook on his phone. He checks the news. He writes notes on his phone. “Story about wasted time? No. Seems like a waste of time.” Dad tries to go back to sleep, but merely tosses and turns. “Why do you want to be awake, Dar?” Dad says to himself. “What’s so important? Are you going to cure cancer or something?” Dad looks at his phone. “Am I? Too tired.”
Wife sleeps. Brother sleeps. Maybe we see their dreams, otherwise this movie gets WAY TOO boring at this point.
6:15, and the episode of Sesame Street ends. The TV clicks back to the Sprout channel, which shows an episode of Nina’s World. Dar screams more. He empties the foyer bookshelf of all its content. Backpacks and diapers and wipes and books and shoes are strewn all over the living room.
We see a big group of Dar’s toys, most of which remain untouched. Dusk light is beginning to creep in the windows.
Brother awakens, yells “I want milk.” Mom gets up. Goes downstairs, heats up a bottle. During heating, she visits Dar. Mom mumbles something about how Dar has destroyed the living room again. The dog looks scared, sad. Mom tells Dar “shhhhhh.” Dar smiles at the attention, screams, then “tee-tee-tees,” alternating sounds of horror and sounds of pleasure. Mom shrugs: who could figure him out?
Mom brings the bottle to the brother, who drinks it greedily and falls back to sleep when it’s finished.
Mom crawls back into bed. Dad has flashes of dreams that barely count, almost jump cuts of the reality he’s living anyway.
Mom’s phone alarm goes off at 6:45. Mom and Dad share a look. UGGGGH.
…Yeah, I agree. Agnes Varda’s movie is a lot better.
– Daniel Smith-Rowsey