Clouds of Sils Maria ★★★★½

"The text is like an object. It's going to change perspective depending on where you're standing."

And as the director, Klaus Diesterweg (Lars Eidinger) tells the journalist, the experience of the play, Maloja Snake, will be different for every audience member, each bringing his or her own personal subjective weight to bear on that elusive textual object.

So, I have to ask, would this film have played differently for me were I 20-something, instead of 40-something? Would I, perhaps, be more interested in Valentine (Kristen Stewart) or Jo-Ann (Chloë Grace Moretz), than Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), a woman confronted by youth - as something startlingly distant from herself - at every turn? I am drawn to Valentine, particularly, of course, and Stewart's performance is as good as they say, but in her, I am startled, like Maria, to see a projection of what I thought I was, not what I am.

I am confronted, week to week, in my capacity as a professor, by 17-22 year old college students, living a moment in their lives that I remember so vividly: that passion for new ideas, that excitement in throwing off perceived tradition, that confident sense of self and one's own "barbaric yawping." For them, the Transcendentalists make the most sense: "Trust thyself"? Of course. "Speak the rude truth"? What other way of speaking can there be? "Absolve [me] to [my]self"? Oh, yes, indeed, they know they shall "have the suffrage of the world."

It is, truly, a thrill to watch such bold living and speaking, but there is, too, as time crawls every more quickly on, an increasingly bitter sting at the end of each quarter, when these bold young beings leave me without a backward glance. Some, it is true, stop to thank me, to wish me goodbye, but most do not think the life of a 40-something professor is truly of much interest - not with their own lives, stretching before them. They simply cannot imagine what mine is and can't really care. And it is right that it should be so. I cannot, as Maria does of Jo-Ann, ask them to pause, for just a few seconds more, as they walk out the door. The poignancy in those seconds would be only for me. No, it is a "little life," after all, "rounded with a sleep," and I see, more and more, as only one of the "players," I cannot take more than my fair share of "exits and . . . entrances."

I am not of their moment, not anymore. Someday, they shall be in mine though that is not really a thought that brings much comfort. They, surely, just as I am now, will be looking backwards to their own youth, not forwards to wherever I am.

Maria, so viscerally and vulnerably performed by Binoche, for me, then, embodies, with an almost unbearable truth, something of the journey of age I feel and resist and give in to and resist and give in to every day, the "rag[ing] against the dying of the light" and the sighing in acquiescence taking almost equal turns. She is someone learning that the narrative isn't really about her - or at least, it is her narrative, she is in it, but her part may not be very important to anyone else. She may cry out in excited questioning, as the rolling clouds and mist stream into the distant valley, "Is that the Snake? Is that the Snake?" but as she turns to the expected audience, she'll find no one is watching, no one listening. Only the still, looming mountain remains, unmoved by the little drama.

I wonder. Next time I watch this, will Rosa Melchior, mostly off-stage, forgotten by most, be the figure who inhabits my mind?

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