CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
At the peak of her international career, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) 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. She departs with her assistant (Kristen Stewart) to rehearse in Sils Maria; a remote region of the Alps. A young Hollywood starlet with a penchant for scandal (Chlo‘ Grace Moretz) is to take on the role of Sigrid, and Maria finds herself on the other side of the mirror, face to face with an ambiguously charming woman who is, in essence, an unsettling reflection of herself.
Review by Louise Keller:
Superlative performances are the reason to watch this engrossing, occasionally self-indulgent film that explores the female psyche and responses to age, self-image and changing times within the acting world. Olivier Assayas' film soars by the grace of his leading ladies, Juliette Binoche as the middle aged actress, Kristen Stewart as her forthright personal assistant and Chloe Grace Moretz as the teen It Girl. Taking an insider's perspective, Assayas has structured his screenplay, so that we become involved in the plight of the characters as well as that of the characters in the play. Much of the narrative takes place in the beautiful Swiss Alpine location of Sils Maria, where rehearsals take place. The fascination comes from the fact that we are never sure whether the lines spoken by Maria (Binoche) and Valentine (Stewart) are part of the play or part of their own relationship.
Binoche and Stewart's performances are so naturalistic and unforced that it is a pleasure to watch the interaction. The film begins in a train in the Swiss Alps where Valentine is fielding phone calls. Maria and Valentine are on their way to meet with the man who made Maria a star years ago when he cast her in her career-making role. Then she played the youthful Sigrid, who destroys Helena, an obsessed older woman. Now she is about to play the older role - a terrifying thought.
Personal and professional lives glide, slip and slide as insecurities, frustrations and fears all swirl together like the famous clouds of Sils Maria, that offer a meteorological warning as they weave through the mountains like a serpent. When we meet Moretz (excellent) as Jo-Ann, she is playing a role in a sci-fi movie within the movie. The sub-plot involving Jo-ann, her married lover and the paparazzi brings a vital new dynamic to the exposition.
It's all about the relationships and those interested in film and theatre will especially enjoy the banter between the women as they share confidences and contemplate life, truth, desire and humanity. Those who fail to connect with the women may find the dialogue tedious and pretentious - there much that is open to interpretation. The scenes set in the snow-capped mountains, when Binoche and Stewart shed their inhibitions and clothes and swim in a tranquil lake are especially memorable. Stewart was awarded Best Supporting Actress at the Cesar Awards in 2014 for her role - the first time an American actress received the honour. Binoche, Assayas and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux were also honoured.
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CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (MA15+)
(France, Switz, Germany, US, Belg, 2014)
CAST: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chlo‘ Grace Moretz
PRODUCER: Charles Gillibert
DIRECTOR: Olivier Assayas
SCRIPT: Olivier Assayas
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Yorick Le Saux
EDITOR: Marion Monnier
MUSIC: Not credited
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Francois-Renaud Labarthe
RUNNING TIME: 124 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Pinnacle
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 7, 2015