Sunday, May 3, 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria review

The Olivier Assayas-directed "Clouds of Sils Maria" features a pair of very strong performances in a rather light and contemplative drama that examines the relationship between a popular middle-aged actress (Juliette Binoche) and her young assistant (Kristen Stewart). Perhaps "light" isn't the best word to describe the drama, but I'll explain myself in a bit.

So Juliette Binoche is Maria Enders. She got her first big break as a teenager starring in the play Maloja Snake, which is a play about a complicated relationship between young woman and an older woman, a relationship that drives the older woman to suicide. Maria played the young woman in the play and is now asked to star in a revival of the play, where she'll now play the part of the older woman. She rehearses the play with her assistant and we discover the relationship between her and her assistant is quite messy as well. (I said "play" a lot in this paragraph, didn't I?)

That's basically the gist of it anyway, barring some details here and there. "Clouds of Sils Maria" explores the perils of aging when looks and age are an essential, albeit unfortunate, part of your job. Maria, now entering (or already in) her 40s, is now forced to play older characters, characters she feels she does not identify with. Like "While We're Young," Maria is forced to come to terms with the fact that she's not the same person she was when she was 25. Only, she has a much harder time making peace with the person she's become and it drives a wedge between her and her assistant.

Binoche and Stewart both give great performances. Kristen Stewart has never been better as the assistant, Valentine, who's more than competent at her job, but there is a lot to suggest that she's got a lot more going on in her life than being Maria Enders's right-hand woman. Much of the film is spent with Binoche and Stewart's characters rehearsing the play and Maria is constantly clashing with the character she's supposed to play. Maria and her assistant have very different opinions about this older woman in Maloja Snake and Maria's constant shutting down of Valentine's perspective really highlights how differently we see life and people, depending on how old we are.

There's all this extra stuff with Chloe Grace Moretz, who plays a young starlet who agrees to play the younger woman in the play. "Clouds of Sils Maria" attempts to be both a character drama and a light satire in its portrayal of the movie business and celebrity culture. On the latter front, it comes up a bit short. But when the movie is about Maria and Valentine, it really shines even if it's a bit light overall.

And by that, I mean it never really goes for the jugular. I don't have a problem with that, I actually appreciate the light touch, but the movie ends with a whimper instead of a bang. If the film was a bit tighter, maybe it would've made the drama between Maria and Valentine more effective, but as it is, "Clouds of Sils Maria" remains a very strong film that just did not hit me in that sweet spot.

Grade: B

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