Clouds of Sils Maria
Review by Sam Wyatt
Director: OLIVIER ASSAYAS
Starring: JULIETTE BINOCHE, KRISTEN STEWART and CHLOË GRACE MORETZ
Rating: MA 15+
In cinemas 7th of May 2015
The clouds never seem to part in this Olivier Assayas film, except to give glimpses of the shining light of the powerful performances.
We meet renowned actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) and her assistant, the savvy Valentine (Kristen Stewart), who are traveling on a rather bumpy train to their next engagement, a seemingly endless journey through the world of show business. Just as it is announced that Maria’s mentor, the writer of the play which made her famous 20 years ago, has died Maria is offered a part in a revival of that very work. The difference this time is that she is being asked to step into the opposite role, the older, tragic character of Helena and not her cherished alluring Sigrid of two decades ago. Maria and Valentine break off from the outside world to rehearse the part of Helena in a remote part of the Swiss Alps. The new Sigrid, Hollywood tabloid fodder Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), is a charming starlet who, as if a mirror, Maria sees as her old self.
The only reason this film can hold interest for two hours is in following the well-crafted interaction between Maria and Valentine. There are some genuinely wonderful and entertaining moments that they share. Having only seen one film before this with the much maligned Kirsten Stewart it’s safe to say that the criticism of her abilities that almost fogged my own judgement is completely uncalled for. Stewart’s presence simply commands attention in this film. In Valentine she creates a powerful foil for Maria that brings touching meaning through many of their scenes.
Clouds of Sils Maria struggles however in working out what it’s saying in the parts of the film without Valentine. While the ultimate conclusion of Maria’s journey plays out with Jo-Ann, seemingly logical in the metaphor of the play within the film, the understanding the audience gains from Valentine and Maria’s time together is repeatedly cast aside as if a separate story. The viewer is left constantly expecting greater impact on and reaction from Maria which never eventuates. The meaning is blurred in the clouds of theatrical ambiguity and an opportunity is missed to make more from the build-up.
For viewers that enjoyed Birdman, and despite opposing tones, this film feels similar with its relatively long individual scenes, theatrical though milder dialogue and with closely spaced but not continuous action. The element most striking in how the scenes are constructed is the use of jump cuts that are occasionally very effective in changing locations amid dialogue but are sometimes plain jarring. Indeed much of the film feels as if it’s been either indecisively cut or carved with a butcher’s knife.
A lot of the interaction between Maria and Valentine is within their rehearsal of the play and the story suffers from the text of the play not being the profound work that the characters all believe it to be. Nevertheless the cast do well and for lovers of European art films, beautiful mountain scenery and effective sequences of overlayed cinematography this is the film for you.