“In the play you all know, Maloya Snake, he gave me everything I need to build a career on, my career.”
Olivier Assayas and Juliette Binoche reunite after their previous collaboration (Summer Hours) in this wonderful meta film that has some slight similarities to Birdman. This could be the female version of that movie although not as entertaining and without all the technical achievements. It is also a little more subtle in its approach. The story begins on a train as reknown actress, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is heading to Zurich with her personal assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to receive an award on behalf of a dear friend, Wilhelm Melchior, who is the reason why she is now a famous actress. Twenty years ago, he offered her the role to play the lead character in the stage and later on in the film adaptation of that play. On their way to Zurich they receive the terrible news of his passing which deeply saddens her. After the ceremony Valentine arranged a meeting with Klaus (Lars Eidinger) who wants Maria to play the older character in his adaptation of Wilhelm’s novel. She continues to identify with the strong younger character and doesn’t feel its correct for her to play the weaker role of Helen, but ultimately she agrees to do it. The lead character will be played by the promising young actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) who has had her share of scandals with paparazzi’s recently. In order to prepare for the role, Maria and Valentine travel to Wilhelm’s former home in Sils Maria surrounded by the gorgeous Alps. Here, Maria is forced to reflect on her career and come to terms with the fact that she’s an aging actress.
Clouds of Sils Maria is another film that reminds us that life imitates art because we are always finding ways to express ourselves and the means to do so is through art. Maria is forced to come to terms with her reality through the acceptance of this character she’s not thrilled about playing because she doesn’t seem to understand her. There are several scenes in which she is rehearsing the lines with Valentine that kind of blur the line between fantasy and reality. There were moments in which i didn’t know if they were actually arguing or if they were simply reading the lines of the play. Those scenes were memorable and unique and I believe are at the center of this film. There are also some great conversations between the two about art and blockbuster Hollywood movies portraying the opposing two point of views. The film is rich with strong female characters exploring art and life in a rather authentic way. Clouds of Sils Maria may not be for everyone because it is slow paced and some scenes can become tedious if you aren’t a patient viewer, but I found it a rewarding experience and a solid exploration of the passage of time and coming to terms with it. The classical music score (Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major) also gives the film a touch of class. The scenery is also beautiful and it makes each conversation all the more profound.
Juliette Binoche has always been a wonderful actress so it comes as no surprise that she deliver yet another solid and touching performance. The real question everyone had was wether or not Kristen Stewart could hold her own next to this talented actress. The two share a lot of screen time together and at no point did I feel that Binoche was eating up the screen. Stewart gives in my opinion the best performance of her career (and I did really like her in Camp X-Ray and Still Alice) and she truly shines here. She won the Cesar (France’s version of the Oscars) for best supporting screenplay and she proves that with the right material she can deliver solid roles. Chloe Grace Moretz also delivers a strong performance despite not having much screen time. She’s hilarious in the scenes where Maria looks up her name on the internet and we get clips of the scandals she’s been involved in. All in all, this is a solid film exploring some interesting subjects with solid performances and a beautiful landscape.