Saturday, May 9, 2015

Movie Review #254: "Clouds of Sils Maria" (2014)

Movie"Clouds of Sils Maria"
Ticket Price: $12.50
Director: Olivier Assayas
Rating: R
Running Time 2 hours, 4 minutes
Image Source
Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a big Hollywood actress who has been in the business for a long time. She is aproached by a young stage director to act in a revival of the play "Maloja Snake," which launched her career 20 years earlier. This time, however, he wants her to play the part of the older woman named Helena, rather than the role of the young, seductive temptress Sigrid, which she played in her youth. Reluctant to take the role, she finally accepts after her friend, the original playwright and director of the play, passes away. 

People in the film industry often like making self-reflective films that take a deeper look into what it is to be an actor. "Clouds of Sils Maria" is exactly that. This film is a character sketch about Maria Enders, played quite wonderfully by Juliette Binoche, and her coming to terms with being an aging actress. Though she is a film actress, she is also a theater star, too. She teeters the fine line between being Hollywood royalty, privileged and seasoned, and is also completely clueless about Hollywood's current climate, as well as its new crop of talent. Maria, upon the death of her mentor, is surrounded by all things new in her life: the director who wants to work with her is new and fresh and "in," her role will be new, her assistant is young, and the actress set to star in her former role is young as well. When Maria is asked to play Helena, the older woman who is manipulated by her young assistant and lover Sigrid in the play "Molaja Snake," Maria struggles with the role. She constantly sees herself as the young seductress, whom she played decades before, as opposed to the older woman who ends up committing suicide because of the volatile relationship. Instead, the part has been given to Jo-Ann Ellis, played by Chlöe Grace Moretz, who has a penchant for drama and is a celebrity tabloid, paparazzi star, all the things Maria strives to avoid in her somewhat sheltered life. Much of the film consists of Maria rehearsing her part with her own personal assistant, Valentine, played by Kristin Stewart, an edgy and sharp but poised woman who is obviously not disclosing all of her true feelings, but tells it like it is, even if it's to Maria's dismay. As they run through the lines of the play, it is abundantly clear a lot of the play's context is reflected in Maria's own personal life, including the relationship between her and her youthful assistant. In fact, the stories seem to parallel each other to the tee. Though both Maria and Valentine are portrayed as heterosexual women, there is definitely some implied sexual tension between them, including one overtly sexual nude scene where Binoche strips down to nothing and skinny dips in front of her assistant. This implication could be a result of them reading the lines of the play, but it would seem there are far too many parallels to say life isn't imitating art in this case.

Juliette Binoche does put on a good performance, displaying a wide range of emotions as she really shows the difficulties she is facing coming to terms with being an aging actress, as well as her views on life and her career shift throughout the film. Kristin Stewart fits the part of Valentine very well, too, almost as if it was written for her. This sort of part allows her to stay within her rather limited range as she basically plays herself, but does so convincingly. As with most Kristen Stewart roles, though, she does seem to play her part with an air of superiority and arrogance, though it mostly works here. Chlöe Grace Moretz's Jo-Ann is basically a milder Lindsay Lohan type whose constant partying has cost her film roles, but she doesn't care and would rather do artsy stuff anyway. Her attitude offers false admiration to manipulate others, much like her character in the play. These three come together in a powerhouse trio, but not all is good about this film. It is very slowly paced, which can be deadly in a drama like this. It also has some seemingly unnecessary parts and other scenes we wish we could have seen cut out entirely. The editing is often abrupt, which may be intentional to give it a theatrical play-like feel, but there is at least one edit that looks like an outright mistake. The film also has some scenes which seem wholly out of place, giving it an uneven tone overall. It is engaging overall, but not fully enthralling.

BigJ and I had some interesting discussions about this film on our drive home from the theater. Where he saw certain scenes one way, I interpreted them completely differently. While he thought Binoche's Maria and Stewart's Valentine were both straight, I understood at least Stewart to be a lesbian and found myself wondering if Binoche might be at least bisexual. The scenarios throughout the movie are very much meant to be ambiguous and left open for interpretation, and yet Binoche and Stewart are acting so well and so fluid with one another, it's hard to tell what is a line from the play and what is real life to their characters. To use a current popular term, this movie is very, very "meta." We have a feeling this will turn many people off from seeing it, mostly because it is an extremely artsy look at the juxtaposition of new and old, aged and youthful, and stage and screen. It is very good, but not perfect, though movies like this, which provoke and promote discussion, are ones tend to like and enjoy as they spill over outside of the theater walls.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 6./10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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