Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Director: Oliver Assayas
Writer:    Oliver Assayas
Cast:       Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz

A veteran actress, Maria (Juliette Bincohe), comes face-to-face with an uncomfortable reflection of herself when she agrees to take part in a revival of the play that launched her career twenty years earlier. The play depicts the exploitative lesbian relationship between a 40-year-old businesswoman, Helena, and her 20-year-old personal assistant, Sigrid. Maria had made her debut playing Sigrid and now, 20 years later, she is being persuaded to take up the role of Helena, with whom she says she couldn't identify at all which is her taking a heads in the sand approach. Also, the relationship between Sigrid and Helena is kind of loosely reflected in the relationship between Maria and her assistant Val, played excellently by Kristen Stewart.

The play in question in the film is titled 'Maloja's Snake' and refers to a meteorological/geographical cloud formation between Maloja Pass between Swiss and Italian Alps border. The film is set in the Swiss side of the Alps in a remote town called Sils Maria near the pass. Film can be described an one which deals with 'getting-old-existentialism' and it is more pronounced for people in the acting business especially if you are a woman. Maria is not someone who thrived purely on looks but still she is finding it hard because getting offered to play the role of Helena symbolically means that she is now officially old. She tries in vain to make excuses like the character being weak, unlike her, and she cannot identify at all with Helena, which is her being in Denial stage under Kübler-Ross model. After she finally accepts the role, when she is practicing her lines with Val, they are in constant conflict regarding their respective interpretation of the play, which also reflects the difference in ages between them. This, along with Maria's growing insecurities and vainness, makes Val exasperated by her and leads to her quitting immediately after they see the 'snake'. This happens suddenly and we are not shown what exactly happened to Val and I even thought that Maria might have killed her.

Apart from Val, the third major character in the film is the 19-year-old actress, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) slated to play the role of Sigrid. The revival of play is supposed to attract headlines concerning Maria playing the role of Helena but by the time play is about to start its run, it gets superseded by events in Jo-Ann Ellis private life. Val leaving and her being not the center of attraction, finally hits it home for Maria as she accepts her reality by the end of the film. Film also takes potshots at Hollywood, not too different from Birdman, and there is one scene in which Val and Maria debates about the quality of films like X-Men and I am on Maria's side. I cannot take such comic book films seriously and find it quite amusing the hoopla surrounding that among the fanboys. One could even consider this film to be a companion piece to Birdman, coming from a female angle. Another film I was reminded of was Paolo Sorrentino's 'The Great Beauty', but that one had a kick-ass central character who was self-aware and assured about where he was at at that age, albeit with some regrets.

Clouds of Sils Maria is a fantastic watch. Kristen Stewart was amazing in the role of assistant and received the César Award for Best Supporting actress (French industry award) for it. This is the first time I had seen her playing a major role, not surprising since she is famous for her involvement in Twilight saga, and looking through her filmography 'Panic Room' and 'Into the Wild' are the only films that I have seen her in. Even though she got most of the plaudits, Binoche was also excellent playing the role of Maria and lack of love for her must be to do with our own exasperation with the character. The central element of the film is of course the relationship between Maria and Val, which is played with enormous amount of subtlety. It is filmed in a very modern way with a minimalist aspect to it. The story idea for the film came from Bincohe who approached the director with it and the latter wrote the screenplay. Bincohe is said to have accepted her role in 'Godzilla', just to do justice to her line that she delivers in Sils Maria about acting in blockbusters. Even though the film is from 2014, it got released in UK and US in 2015 only, and so, I will reserve it for my 'Best of 2015' list.

Rating: 5/5