Clouds of Sils Maria – Movie Review by Frank L.
Directed by Olivier Assayas
Writer: Olivier Assayas
Stars: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace
The action begins on a train in which Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) and her personal assistant Valentine (Kirsten Stewart) are travelling. Valentine is juggling with an incessant number of calls on her mobile as she tries to handle Maria’s fame as an actor; they are heading to Zurich for a presentation to be made to a renowned, admired and somewhat reclusive playwright Melchior who wrote the play, Maloja Snake, in which Maria got her big break as the lead some twenty years previously. She played the part of a manipulative twenty something year old, Sigrid, who had been an assistant to a forty year old, Helena, who ultimately is driven to suicide. On the train they receive notification that Melchior has suddenly died.
Leaving aside all the commotion that his sudden death creates, Maria is offered in Zurich the part of the forty year old, Helena, in a new production of Maloja Snake to be staged in London. She cannot make up her mind whether to accept it or not for a variety of reasons including her decreasing draw as an actor entering firmly into her middle years. She also is offered by Melchior’s widow to stay in their home which is situate up high in the Alps. Maria and Valentine ensconce themselves in the house and Maria begins to learn the lines of Helena in the play and Valentine reads the part of Sigrid.
Between Maria and Valentine and Sigrid and Helena life to an extent imitates art. There are some similarities in the circumstances of the play and the world of Maria and Valentine. The young actress who is to play Sigrid is called Jo-Anne Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) who is at the beginning of her career and is already a target of the paparazzi. She is red top news. Olivier Assayas keeps these varied and various stresses and strains in play with some considerable skill. He is assisted by the acting of Kirsten Stewart, calm, unshowy and understated which is a revelation. She makes the doubts of Maria understandable. Needless to say Binoche as Maria gives a master class in acting but the role of Stewart is not to be underestimated in enabling her to do so. They make a fine duo.
Old black and white film clips of the Alpine cloud formation known as Maloja Snake and some Handel music provide a backdrop of historical perspective. However when the story moves to London, it becomes less reflective and the earlier stresses and strains become dissolved in a glossy showiness. What stands out however is the acting of Kirsten Stewart and Juliette Binoche. It is an impressive pas de deux.
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