Compare And Contrast: Sharon Van Etten Channels Agnes Varda

Yesterday, songwriter Sharon Van Etten tweeted a link to a YouTube video, saying “Make sure to watch before tomorrow.”

The video clip, depicting a woman getting her fortune told with the help of Tarot cards and palm reading, is a small portion of Cleo from 5 to 7, the 1962 Agnes Varda film. The film focuses roughly two hours in the life of Cléo (played by Corinne Marchand), a French singer, as she drifts through the streets of Paris while nervously awaiting the results of a biopsy test, thinking she may have cancer. She visits a fortune teller, she drinks coffee, goes shopping, and ultimately, tries to escape the persona as most people see her. The film not only features cameos by Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina, but a score by composer Michael Legrand. It’s one of those (Criteron-approved) existential “what is the meaning of life?” classic films that mulls over identity, morality, and fate.

Jump to today: Sharon Van Etten has unveiled the music video for “Taking Chances,” the first single on her superb upcoming Are We There.

As you can tell, the video, directed by Michael Palmieri, is clearly based on those same shots and theme of Cleo from 5 to 7‘s opening sequence. I had previously heard this song, watch it’s lyric video, (and the entire album), and immediately fell for the song’s mellow, ruminative tone, and her always emotionally rich words.

Now coupled with the images from the real music video, the song’s themes rise to the surface: As she sings about personally and raw about pain, Van Etten returns to familiar motifs: past ravaged relationships and “looking for a way out”; “taking chances” on someone new, and risking exposing your true self to someone by falling in love again. “When you love all of you, they know all of you / Be alone and take, and you break for your sake / About to leave, about to leave,” she sings at the end.

As the video implies, while we all try to forecast into the future, and possibly change our patterns, we all must face the unknown, take risks, and cope with the idea that we’re all resigned to the same ultimate fate in the end, so better embrace it.

According to Palmieri, the inspiration of connecting the film and the song, was apparently intended and maybe even meant to be. Here’s what he has described about the origins of the music video:

“SVE contacted me a few months back to see if I’d like to come up with some ideas for “Taking Chances”, her first single off the new record. When I first heard the song the lyrics immediately made me think about the opening sequence to the great Agnes Varda film “Cleo from 5 to 7″, one of my favorites. I usually mull over ideas for days or weeks before coming up with anything decent to share with an artist, but this one just came out immediately. I sent a sketch of the idea onto Sharon and Zeke Hutchins, her manager, then I didn’t hear back from them for over a week, at which point I thought, well, damn, they must hate the idea, I blew it! But soon Zeke contacted me and asked if Sharon had sent me the album artwork. I said, no, I haven’t even heard anything else off the album yet, let alone seen anything from it. Sharon then texted me pretty much the same question, “Did Zeke send you the album before you wrote this?” Nope. I didn’t understand what the big deal was.

“Finally they sent me a photograph that’s a big component of the album artwork, it’s this beautiful aged picture of Agnes Varda standing in front of a bazillion reels of 16mm film. This image of one of my filmmaking heroes has been hanging on Sharon’s wall wherever she’s lived for years and years to the point where it’s all tattered and weather-worn. I like to think that Ms. Varda is standing in front of a bunch of reels from Cleo from 5 to 7, but who knows. It’s just one of the strangest coincidences, and it made us all feel like the video had to be made. So now I can safely say the video is inspired by two incredible women: Sharon, for her musical inspiration, and Agnes Varda, whose inspiration on the both of us is quite apparent.”