was happy to finally catch up with Clouds
of Sils Maria since I missed its theatrical run; the picture received many
accolades, especially for Kristen Stewart, who apparently was the first
American to win the César award for Supporting Actress, as well as
several critics’ awards for the same category.
film is a commentary on the state of Hollywood filmmaking, an examination of
the psychological dynamics between women, and a philosophical—sometimes
playful—dramatization of parallel lives/characters. It’s as if an Ingmar
Bergman movie was crossed with one by Krzysztof Kieślowski.
Binoche stars as Maria, a popular, internationally-known actress who appears in
European and Hollywood films, and on the stage. Stewart indeed gives a
remarkable performance—the best I’ve ever seen her do—as Valentine, Maria’s
personal assistant. Twenty-something years earlier, Maria had starred in a
stage play and subsequent film adaptation about a lesbian relationship between
an older business woman and a younger subordinate. Maria had played the latter
role and this launched her career. Now, a respected Dutch director wants to
remount the play with Maria playing the older role and casting the younger one
with a hot, tabloid-fodder Hollywood actress named Jo-Ann, magnificently
portrayed by Chloë Grace Moretz. Maria has her doubts about
playing the older role but accepts the part anyway.
of the picture involves the interplay between Maria and Valentine, who run
lines from the play together, with Valentine doing Jo-Ann’s part. At times,
though, we begin to wonder if the dialogue is really from the play or if it’s
the real-life dramatic action between Maria the actress and Valentine the
assistant. This is where director Assayas starts to have fun with the
actors—and the audience. The characters fight, they make up, they joke around,
and they dissect Hollywood and its stars. Real actors are mentioned, and
current trends (aka superhero movies) are lampooned. Things get heated when
Valentine is more receptive to current Hollywood fare than Maria. Assayas’ ageism
message here is not subtle.
is understated and enigmatic is when a key character of the story inexplicably
vanishes—and the film goes on as if that person never existed. Did she? Is that an observation about the
movie business, or is it an interpretation of the friendship/conflict relationships
that women sometimes have?
title refers to a natural phenomenon that really exists near the village of
Sils Maria in Switzerland, in which a “snake” of clouds rolls through the
Maloja Pass valley when the weather conditions are just right. Most of the film
is shot there, and Yorick Le Saux’s gorgeous cinematography captures the event
at the moment when the aforementioned
Criterion Collection’s 2K digital transfer, with 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master
Audio soundtrack, is superb. Supplements include a new interview with director
Assayas; new interviews with both Binoche and Stewart; a short 1924 silent
documentary, Cloud Phenomena of Maloja,
parts of which also feature in the movie; and the trailer. The enclosed booklet
contains an essay by critic Molly Haskell.
Clouds of Sils Maria might require a
couple of viewings to fully appreciate, but its rewards are full, fluffy, and