CineMarter
Clouds of Sils Maria - Mellow, Smart and Compelling

Matthew Parkinson | 11 Apr 2015 16:00
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Directed and written by Olivier Assayas. Produced by Karl Baumgartner, Charles Gillibert, Thanassis Karathanos, Jean-Louis Porchet, and Gérard Ruey. Release date: April 10, 2015.

It's always difficult to begin a review of a movie as rich and complex as Clouds of Sils Maria, because the temptation exists to get right into the meat of it, potentially spoiling important segments and not laying the groundwork for those who likely haven't seen it. This feeling occurs because when a movie like this one crosses a critic's plate, it stands out from the typical movie, which is disposable, predictable, and barely worth a review, let alone a more in-depth discussion. Make no mistake: Clouds of Sils Maria is worth all of that and more.

The film stars Juliette Binoche as Maria, a famous movie actress. At her side is her personal assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart). They begin the film on their way to pay tribute to a director who cast Maria in a play called Maloja Snake, which saw a much younger Maria playing an intern at a company whose relationship with her older boss is ... let's just call it "interesting" and leave it at that. While on the way, the director passes away. Perhaps looking to capitalize on the publicity, a different director contacts Maria and asks if she'll star in a reboot of the play that made her famous, but playing the older woman, not the role she originally made famous. Most of the movie after this point takes place in Sils Maria, where Maria and Valentine rehearse the play together.

Clouds of Sils Maria CineMarter #1

Does that sound interesting? Perhaps to a few of you out there, but the story itself seems largely bereft of action. However, I described the outline of the play for a good reason: the relationship that occurred in the play is going to, at least in portions, show up in the relationship between Maria and Valentine. Yes, theirs is an interesting one. When they rehearse, we begin to wonder whether this is their play-characters talking, or if it's themselves. In addition, we are also given an often disturbing look into the behind-the-scenes lives of famous people, both with the older Maria, and the young woman who has been cast opposite her in the play, Jo-Ann (Chloë Grace Moretz). At times, it almost feels like there's a meta-narrative, much like 2014's Best Picture winner Birdman - although it rarely tries to make you laugh like Birdman did. It's more restrained and more mellow; rarely does it energize its audience.

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