Did you know that two polka dot icons were born in the year 1928? One fictional—Minnie Mouse, first drawn that year, with her matching dress and bow—and the other, the late and legendary Agnès Varda, who would go on to outdo her mouse mate by mixing her dots, sometimes three at a time, even of different sizes. I suppose I was first introduced to Varda through polka dots, too. Not hers, but that of the heroine in her most well-known film, Cléo From 5 to 7 (1962), about a pop star (Corinne Marchand) who falls into a spiral, unfolding in real time, vérité style, as she waits for biopsy results. This was the first Varda film I ever watched, and likely for many too.
Cléo wears a few different outfits in the short, 90-minute timeframe but it is her perfectly-fitting sundress—with large, playful dots, and a cummerbund breaking up the pattern—that leaves the biggest imprint in my mind. She dons this dress in her moments of frivolous vanity—trying on hats at a store, looking in an endless hall of mirrors—adding a deceptively whimsical veneer to what is otherwise an existential breakdown. “As long as I’m beautiful, I’m alive,” she declares at one point.
I feel as if I’ve spent these distressing days as frivolously as possible, too. Last weekend, I put on a full face of makeup and a vintage dress to virtual drinks with Hillary, Colleen, Marie, and Michael. I’ve been spending the last few days reading three pages of Cassavetes on Cassavetes at a time because I become so moved by passages on Minnie and Moskowitz. I soothe myself with quirky romantic films. I daydream about the husband I was supposed to meet this year. Late at night, with my headphones on, I practice DJing my next set: songs about romantic longing. I dance around in my bedroom to this song. I post “thirst traps” on Instagram (videos of myself playing the keyboard). Death is at the forefront of the collective conscience, yet I write newsletter after newsletter about my crush with cliché headlines and try to romanticize my isolation.
It’s day 18 of quarantine for me, and I’ve noticed that I feel better on days I get dressed and put some effort into my appearance. Some may initially write off Cléo for being facetious, but I find her so vulnerably, relatably human, even though the film is also about the demands of celebrity. Plus, she had the right idea: If you thought you were possibly spending your last hours on earth, why not choose an outfit that brings me as much joy? That makes you feel impenetrably gorgeous? There is a glaring absence of polka dots in my closet as we speak but I wish I had some to wear now—to honor Varda, to brighten up my day.
“I’ve always loved polka dots. Ah, oui. It is a joyful shape, the polka dot. It is alive.”
RIP; it’s been exactly one year since the world lost you.