Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Review #1,117

Director:  Olivier Assayas
Cast:   Juliette BinocheKristen StewartChloĆ« Grace Moretz 
Plot:  At the peak of her international career, Maria Enders is asked to perform in a revival of the play that made her famous twenty years ago.  But back then she played the role of Sigrid, an alluring young girl who disarms and eventually drives her boss Helena to suicide.  Now she is being asked to step into the other role, that of the older Helena.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for Palme d'Or (Cannes).
Runtime:  124min
Rating:  M18 for some nudity and coarse language.

Juliette Binoche is an elegant woman with style and grace.  She walked past, enroute to the theater where Clouds of Sils Maria played as part of the 25th Singapore International Film Festival.  Fans were taking photos, some asking for autographs.  I don't believe in getting autographs because every good film is an autograph or a keepsake.

I first saw Binoche in Kieslowski's Blue (1993), a remarkable film dealing with the pain of tragedy.  In Clouds of Sils Maria, the latest entry into director Olivier Assayas' eclectic filmography, she plays an actress struggling to exorcise her demons.  She signs up for a remake of a play in a role that she previously starred opposite of decades ago. 

One of the more beautifully shot films of Assayas, Clouds of Sils Maria sees Binoche and Kristen Stewart hiking atop the mountains, trading lines from a book, and soaking in the thin air.  In one scene, they go skinny dipping.  How cold it must have been.

Stewart plays Binoche's personal assistant, and to her credit, holds herself well against the veteran actress.  Binoche doesn't disappoint, and in many scenes, she might just be playing herself.  Before the screening began, she gave a brief introduction, saying that what she had to say was all in the film.  If that was any indicator, she was trying to hint the meta-filmic nature of Assayas' film. 

Clouds of Sils Maria explores the process of creating art, celebrity culture, and the mystery of the star.  It also exudes an anti-Hollywood stance, and in some way operates as a loose thematic companion piece to David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars (2014), but with greater dramatic introspection. 

Assayas' work is dialogue-heavy, poetic sometimes, but never treated heavy-handedly or subversively.  It comes across naturalistically, and in Binoche, we see a star not only at ease with herself, but at ease with how we see her, and her own caricature.

With Chloe Grace Moretz only appearing sporadically over the second half of the film, Clouds of Sils Maria is really a dialogue between Binoche and Stewart, though I would have loved to see the three actresses have more screen time together. 

Overall, Clouds of Sils Maria is interesting, but the film's structure can be likened to a makeshift scaffold; it is loose enough to allow it to chart is own course, but not tight enough as a narrative to soar above the clouds.  That, for better or worse, can be said of many films of Assayas.

Verdict:  In some way a loose thematic companion piece to Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, but with greater dramatic introspection, though not necessarily tight enough to soar.


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