[A] French film that fairly glitters with photographic and cinematic "style," yet fails to do more than skim the surface of a cryptic dramatic theme, is "Cleo From 5 to 7."… Objectively, it might be favored as a fair example of the slick techniques of the French New Wave….
[The] film indicates at the outset that it is going to be a thing of fleeting moods, of casual illustration of the vagrant and fragile anxieties of a shallow girl….
Obviously, Mlle. Varda has wanted the changing scene to reflect the moods of her young woman, the encounters to counterpoint her thoughts. And, in some respects, she has succeeded, superficially but quite attractively. There are times when her girl is moving around Paris and picking up wisps of street music, or other times when she is listening to the chatter of her companions that flash little hints of haunting sorrow.
But, generally, Mlle. Varda is so absorbed with her camera stunts, as she is in that scene in the hat shop or when she is screening [a] comedy short, that the essential concentration on the heroine is neglected and the interest lost. The character becomes incidental to the techniques by which it is being explained.
Bosley Crowther, "'Cleo from 5 to 7'," in The New York Times (© 1962 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 5, 1962, p. 43.