2-8 January 2015 #739

The Clouds of Sils Maria

A cool clever script for a true film of the art-house
Sophia Pande

Citing the seminal realist filmmaker Robert Bresson, Olivier Assayas, the talented French director is rigorous about depicting life as is, with all its fascinating minutiae.

Almost always writing his own scripts, this fairly prolific director jumps from subject to subject, hardly ever repeating his themes. In his latest, incredibly brave new film The Clouds of Sils Maria which premiered earlier this year at the Cannes film festival, we have something of an anomaly.

This is a cool clever script that becomes a fascinating puzzle of a film, hard to decipher even days after viewing, meant perhaps to be an enigmatic portrait of a woman growing old, albeit gracefully.

The film stars the wonderful Juliette Binoche as Maria Enders, a very famous A list star who is oblivious of vile internet celebrity culture, but understanding of the current Hollywood zeitgeist which deems actresses unemployable after 40 (or earlier).

The plot is seemingly simple, Maria is travelling with her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) in Switzerland, on her way to a ceremony that is celebrating the achievement of Wilhelm Melchior who wrote “Maloja Snake” – a now famous play that is about the intense love affair between an older powerful woman and a younger manipulative girl who quickly learns to wield her influence on her lover. Maria had starred as the younger girl when the play first opened, a role that catapulted her into fame.

During the journey, Wilhelm is found dead near his alpine home in Sils Maria, and Maria herself wrought with grief, finds herself in an existential dilemma when she is approached to play the older woman in “Maloja Snake” for a commemorative show for Wilhelm. She agrees only to  find herself detesting the psychology behind the older woman’s character, struggling to find a kernel of empathy, helped by her faithful Valentine during painful rehearsals.

As Maria deals with her own issues of insecurity, her relationships with Valentine, and Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), who is cast as the younger woman, continue to be the crux of the film’s mystery as roles blur, people manipulate each other (or not), and nothing is quite as it seems.

A true film of the art-house “The Clouds of Sils Maria” is compelling viewing, with Binoche at her best. Stewart, as always is a bit wooden, very American in her delivery and her persona, though oddly watchable in a role written for her by Assayas. Moretz too, a previously talented actor,  falters in her role as the spoilt ingénue, her character too thinly written, her antics just too shallow to be real. Despite these slight lapses though, this is a film to ponder over – a compelling film for our times.

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