Saturday, April 25, 2015
Clouds of Sils Maria
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, Clouds of Sils Maria is the story of a famous film actress who is asked to star in the play that launched her career but in a different role as she copes with aging and the death of an old mentor. The film is an exploration of a woman who tries to figure out the ways of a new world as she contends with a young actress who is known for being notorious while is accompanied by a loyal assistant who tries to help her. Starring Juliette Binoche, Kirsten Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz. Clouds of Sils Maria is a compelling yet mesmerizing film from Olivier Assayas.
The film revolves around a famous film actress who goes to Switzerland to pay tribute to her mentor as she learns he had just died as the play that launched her career is being remade by a new director who asks her to play the older woman. It’s a film that isn’t just about the art of acting but also the world of aging as the actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is playing the role of a character that she has no relations to as she also learns that the character that she played many years ago is being played by a talented but troubled young actress. Aiding Enders into preparing the role is her loyal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) where the two stay at the home of Maria’s late mentor as the lines begin to blur into the role that Maria is trying to play with Valentine reading lines as the character that made Maria famous.
Olivier Assayas’ screenplay doesn’t just explore Maria’s resistance into playing the role of the older woman Helena who falls in love and becomes destroyed by this young woman named Sigrid. It’s also in the fact that Maria once played Sigrid which was written by her mentor and it was the role that gave her the big break when she was just 18. Still mourning over the loss of the man who gave her the break and the offer to play Helena in that play doesn’t just put Maria in emotional and mental turmoil as she is aghast that the young actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) is to play Sigrid. While Valentine finds Jo-Ann to be very interesting, Maria isn’t so sure as she and Valentine spend much of their time in the Alps hiking and reciting lines for play where Valentine offers her own interpretation of the play as things do intensify. Notably as Maria ponders about who she is and is she becoming Helena.
Assayas’ direction is very simple in terms of its compositions as he shoots the film largely in Switzerland where much of the story takes place in Sils Maria near the Alps. Assayas definitely makes Sils Maria and other locations in Switzerland and places in Germany characters in the film yet it does play into the wonder that is Sils Maria. Assayas does go for a lot of great wide shots of those locations while he keeps things very intimate with its usage of close-ups and medium shots as it relates to the relationship between Maria and Valentine. Assayas does bring in elements of humor as it relates to Maria’s own reaction towards Jo-Ann and her films while there’s also some commentary that these young starlets aren’t exactly what they seem. Even when Maria and Valentine eventually meet Jo-Ann in the third act as Assayas’ camera becomes more intimate with its dolly-tracking shots as it reveals the different kind of youth that Jo-Ann is. It does play into the world of aging but also reasons into why Maria has trouble relating to the character she is to play which adds a complexity to her relationship with Valentine. Overall, Assayas crafts a very intriguing yet evocative film about an actress dealing with death and aging.
Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography with its low-key yet stylish look for the scenes set at night to the more naturalistic look of the daytime exterior scenes including some of the moments at the Alps. Editor Marion Monnier does brilliant work with the editing with its stylish use of dissolves and jump-cuts to play into the drama along with some inspired use of transitional fade-outs. Production designer Francois-Renaud Labarthe, with set decorator Gabriele Wolff and art director Gabriella Ausonio, does fantastic work with the hotels that Maria and Valentine would stay in along with the home of Maria‘s mentor.
Costume designer Jurgen Doering does nice work with the costumes as it features mostly casual clothing with the exception of the Chanel dresses that Maria would wear early in the film. Visual effects supervisor Mikael Tanguy does terrific work for some of the minimal visual effects that involve the mysterious clouds that loom over the Alps. Sound editor Nicholas Moreau does superb work with the sound as it’s very sparse in its intimate setting along with low-key moments for the locations in the Alps near Sils Maria. The film’s music soundtrack largely features classical pieces by Georg Friedrich Handel and Johann Pachelbel as well as a brooding electro-rock piece from Primal Scream.
The casting by Antoinette Boulat and Anja Dihrberg is wonderful as it features notable small roles from Brady Corbet as a young filmmaker wanting to work with Maria, Benoit Peverelli as a publicist for Maria in Zurich, Caroline de Maigret as a Chanel press agent, Nora von Waldstatten as Jo-Ann’s co-star in a sci-fi movie, and Angela Winkler as the widow of Maria’s mentor who would reveal to her about the home and what happened to her husband. Hanns Zischler is terrific as an actor Maria worked with in the past whom she disliked as he tries to flirt with her upon their reunion to pay tribute to their mentor. Johnny Flynn is excellent as a famous figure whom Jo-Ann is dating in the film’s third act as it would cause some trouble into their lives. Lars Eidinger is superb as the director Klaus Diesterweg as a famous theater director who wants to remake the play that Maria was famous for as he wanted Maria to play the role of the older woman Helena.
Chloe Grace Moretz is fantastic as Jo-Ann Ellis as this young actress who is a magnet for trouble as she is asked to play the role that Maria was famous for as she copes with her fame and ideas of the play where Moretz brings that young naiveté to her performance as well as someone who is actually more aware of her dysfunction as a person and as a celebrity. Kristen Stewart is amazing as Valentine as Maria’s personal assistant who accompanies her to Switzerland and helps her with the play as Stewart brings some humor to the role as well as someone who isn’t afraid to say things as it’s a very reserved and engaging performance from Stewart who does get to provide some scene-stealing moments. Finally, there’s Juliette Binoche in a remarkable performance as Maria Enders as this famous film star coping with the loss of her mentor and aging as she has trouble trying to play a role that was the opposite of the character that made her famous as it’s a performance where Binoche brings some anguish and humility as well as elements of humor as it’s one of her finest performances to date.
Clouds of Sils Maria is a phenomenal film from Olivier Assayas that features incredible performances from Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz. It’s a film that explores the world of art as well as an actress coming to terms with getting older and be forced to face realizations about herself. In the end, Clouds of Sils Maria is a sensational film from Olivier Assayas.
Olivier Assayas Film: (Disorder) - (Winter’s Child) - (Paris Awakens) - (A New Life) - (Cold Water) - (Irma Vep) - (Late August, Early September) - (Sentimental Destinies) - (Demonlover) - Clean - (Boarding Gate) - Summer Hours - Carlos - (Something in the Air)
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