Clouds of Sils Maria ★★★★★

You can tell after the first ten minutes of watching Clouds Of Sils Maria that it is not a Hollywood production; one, because Juliette Binoche's character Maria is still alive, and two, because Kristen Stewart is actually allowed to act, and she's pretty great at it by the way.

In yet another year of middling roles for women, Sils Maria is a dream come true. Masterfully directed by Olivier Assayas, the film centers on an aging actress preparing to play the older, more pitiful female role in a revival of a stageplay that made her famous years ago when she played the younger, sexier role. Life imitates art, as it so often does, and an admittedly shallow conceit is given tremendous depth of feeling and humanity when the text of the play begins to comment on the text of the film, and vice versa, bringing all of Maria's personal demons to the foreground, and putting strain on her relationship with her assistant Valentine (Stewart), who makes the mistake of helping her with line readings. Watching the two of them traipse through the Swiss countryside arguing, and never quite knowing if they are still "in character" or not is thrilling and beautiful and inspiring all at the same time.

I'll admit I had to warm to Stewart, as her aloofness and transactional nature at first seemed mannered. But then Moretz appears as a Hollywood ingenue fresh from a superhero movie, playing, you guessed it, the younger role, and Valentine is given room to express her opinions through post-modern analyses of contemporary cinema and she immediately becomes the intellectual version of the physical threat the young actress poses to Maria. Let's just say It takes a great actor to be behind a character who can convincingly win an esoteric argument with a character played by Juliette Binoche. Beyond that Assays does not allow her to be defined by Maria; he instead gives her a pretty important solo moment that serves as the catalyst for the rockiness that soon surfaces in their relationship.

Clouds of Sils Maria might come off as pretentious to some. Who cares about the mid-life crisis of some rich actress, and so forth? But the film is about so much more than that. For me, director Assayas' deft maneuvering back and forth through the different layers of text and meta-text, made me realize, or at least come away with the feeling, that art is inextricably linked with ontology, and can open pathways to understanding things about ourselves we might not otherwise care to see, or not know where to begin looking to satisfy curiosity. And that not only makes the film worthy of a rewatch, but also of a spot among the best fims of the year.

Auteur liked this review