Movie Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

clouds

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

dir. Olivier Assayas

starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace-Moretz

A post-modern meditation on maturity and power. Set in the Swiss Alps, and Maria Enders’ (Juliette Binoche) insecurities, Clouds of Sils Maria covers similar thematic territory as Black Swan and Birdman, albeit with more complexity.

Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a respected and mature actress. She is asked to be in the play the made her famous twenty years ago. It’s a play about a younger woman, Sigrid, who seduces her older female boss, Helena, then abandons her. It drives Helena, to suicide…maybe.  Clouds of Sils Maria lives in the ambiguities and explores how power changes with age. The abrupt, ironically looser, edits enhance that feeling. However, when looking back, you feel you were being set up for a twist that never comes.  The Swiss Alps are a beautiful and otherworldly setting for this intellectual approach.  As the play is deconstructed by the characters, echoes of the relationship dynamics in the play are seen in the film.

Maria reluctantly accepts the role of the older woman this time. The younger woman is played by Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace-Moretz), a woman famous for her tabloid headlines rather than her Hollywood superhero movies. Maria is uncomfortable playing an older woman. She hates Helena, she’s too weak, she’s self-destructive, she’s boring. To her the role is admitting aging, becoming invisible. Her and her assistant, played by a surprisingly human Kristen Stewart, run lines, and run through Maria’s insecurities in the Alps. Kristen Stewart, as the assistant Val, acts as the devil’s advocate in Maria’s debates. Val is Maria’s right hand, her shadow. The pair have a best-friend bond, which allows Val to challenge Maria’s assumptions. She pushes Maria to see the depth and complexity in the character.  Val reminds her that the text hasn’t changed, Maria has. She suggests that vulnerability isn’t weakness. Binoche and Stewart have great chemistry that changes from sisterly, to mentor, to even sexual.  Their relationship is key.

Clouds of Sils Maria takes a unique approach to familiar material.

Recommend: Yes, it’s a discussion starter.

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