Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Movie with Abe: Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria
Directed by Oliver Assayas
Released April 10, 2015

There’s a reason there are so many movies made about making movies: it’s a fascinating process that almost always sees echoes of what’s happening in real life play out on screen. Making such a duality dynamic requires a careful balance of showing the filmmaking process and chronicling those involved in its creation as they interact off screen. “Clouds of Sils Maria” is an ambitious epic tale that follows an aging actress who is forced to look back on her career from a new vantage point as she revisits the project that made her famous in a decidedly different capacity.

Before we meet Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), we are introduced to her hardworking assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), aboard a train to Zurich. Valentine speaks confidently for her employer, negotiating aggressively on the phone with those who seek to take advantage of her and even behaving boldly enough as to interrupt her boss with a written message while she is on the phone. Maria’s trip to a gala honoring the filmmaker whose classic work served as the launching point of her career is turned devastating by his sudden death, framing the experience in an altogether different light and forcing her to consider whether she should take on the role of the seduced older woman in a restaging of the play in which she, twenty years earlier, played the young seductress.

There is much going on in “Clouds of Sils Maria,” particularly a transformation of Maria as she contemplates where her life and her work have taken her. Aboard the train, she appears buttoned-up and like a diva, and as the film progresses and we see her later in the process of preparing for the role, she has a new haircut and a different attitude, more humbled and less certain about her future and her talents. Her relationship with Valentine is fascinating, and it serves as an excellent and complex mirror of the written dynamic of the play. The Hollywood starlet chosen to take on the role played by a young Maria, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), adds a new element to the mix, further contemplating Maria’s self-perception.

“Clouds of Sils Maria” has a lot to say about performance, celebrity, age, relevance, and much more. It’s a layered story that transforms considerably over the course of its two-hour runtime, using the haunting backdrop of the Maloja snake, a natural winding cloud phenomenon in Sils Maria, to further emphasize its themes. The casting is crucial and extremely effective, taking three extremely different actresses and giving them fitting parts. Binoche is the seasoned Oscar winner well-equipped to play a venerated actress with her own personal demons and doubts, and Moretz is an up-and-coming young star who, at age eighteen, has demonstrated herself to be very capable of choosing respectable and challenging parts. It’s Stewart, however, who truly impresses, proving herself more than up to the task of getting serious and portraying a relatable, human, and mature character who may just be the most self-aware person in this film. This is the kind of sophisticated, thought-out movie that explores a lot during its runtime and leaves so many lingering questions after its credits roll.


No comments: