Movie Review: IFC Films' Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria

Release Date: May 1st 2015 (Houston Opening)
Director: Olivier Assayas
Writer: Olivier Assayas
Main Cast: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz
MPAA Rating: Rated R for language and brief graphic nudity
Genre: Drama
Running Time: 123 Minutes

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At the peak of her international career, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is asked to perform in a revival of the play that made her famous twenty years ago. But back then she played the role of Sigrid, an alluring young girl who disarms and eventually drives her boss Helena to suicide. Now she is being asked to step into the other role, that of the older Helena. She departs with her assistant (Kristen Stewart) to rehearse in Sils Maria; a remote region of the Alps. A young Hollywood starlet with a penchant for scandal (Chloë Grace Moretz) is to take on the role of Sigrid, and Maria finds herself on the other side of the mirror, face to face with an ambiguously charming woman who is, in essence, an unsettling reflection of herself.

Clouds of Sils Maria is the new French/Swiss drama starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz. It’s a film about the entertainment industry. In this particular story, we are introduced to Maria (Binoche), a once fabulous, still well-respected, star of stage and screen. Maria has a personal assistant, Valentine (Stewart). Valentine seems to “know better” about things than Maria. She is young and level-headed. Maria is best known for a role that she played twenty years ago, the role that jump started her career. At the age of 18, Maria had played the role of Sigrid, a young temptress, in a play and movie by the same name, Maloja Snake. But this is 20 years later. Maria is facing family troubles, the death of her mentor and the fading of her fame.

In comes an up-and-coming director, who is eager to re-make the play that once made Maria famous, except this time he doesn’t want Maria to play the young temptress Sigrid, he wants her to play Helena, the older woman in the rocky love affair. The director wants Sigrid to be played by Jo-Ann Ellis (Moretz), the young buzz of Hollywood. This causes an internal conflict in Maria. She doesn’t want to be the older, sad, woman in an affair. She still wants to be the temptress.

This a technically great film. The scenery, mostly shot in Switzerland, is gorgeous. I found my gaze lost in the mountains of Sils Maria. Just the photography and cinematography together are worth the price of admission. Genuinely beautiful. The story makes sense and it’s relatable. It deals with the conflicts and challenges of aging, mortality and relevance. No one wants to be Helena, the older, sad, woman in an affair. By and large, people want to be Sigrid forever. And regardless of the battle to stay Sigrid, most wake-up one day to realize that they are Helena. That awakening can be shocking to the mind. The acting is great. Binoche comes across as sincerely vulnerable. Moretz is a sincerely jerky. I am not a fan of Moretz. I’m convinced she flares her nostrils when she acts. That’s all I see when she speaks, her nose. Stewart is the strongest of the actresses. And I never thought I would say that. She started really coming into her own for role in Still Alice. I don’t know which was filmed first, but Stewart plays Valentine as smart and grounded and quick. I liked her better than I ever have.

All that said, while I appreciated the film, I didn’t enjoy it. Did I lose you? It is just very heavy and morose. I can’t imagine being on a date and taking someone to see this. I can’t imagine being on a girls’ night out and wanting to see this. At times, the plot moves at a snail’s pace. I may have stared into the mountains because I was waiting for someone to say something. And the problems of Maria, while relevant, came across as trivial to this realist. She’s still beautiful and wealthy and beloved by her professional community, but she is conflicted because time didn’t stand still for her. Get over it, Maria. Life goes on. Also, there is a nude scene by Binoche that I can’t un-see. I wasn’t ready for it, and it is burned in my mind for all time.

Clouds of Sils Maria is like art, or the ballet, it's an acquired taste. You may not like this particular film, but you can appreciate the artistry with which it was created. Don’t ever take my word for it, see Clouds of Sils Maria for yourself starting on May 1st.

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