Clouds of Sils Maria

To be honest, I watched this movie some time ago, it’s just that writing about it in any meaningful way was a little daunting.

It’s about an actress, Maria (the fabulous Juliette Binoche), who has had a CLOUDS OF SILS MARIAlauded career after being launched in the theatre playing Sigrid, a sizzling ingénue. Now, years later, the playwright and her mentor has died, and there’s interest in re-staging the play, and Maria is approached to star. The catch? This time she’d of course be playing the role of the older woman, Helena, in a complicated May-December lesbian office unrequited romance (whoa, that’s a mouthful).

Should Maria take the role? Initially she declines. She finds the older character to be a bit pathetic, too much of a doormat. But the director is tenacious and Maria is not exactly afraid of a challenging role, so she accepts. She retreats to Clouds-of-Sils-maria-3a remote chalet with her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) and they begin rehearsing the play, only in the rehearsing, Maria again grapples with her distaste for the weakness of the character, and must face her own feelings about aging.

Chloe Grace Moretz floats in as the scandal-prone Hollywood It Girl who is to play the younger woman. She flatters Maria with fandom but ultimately plays the role much differently than Maria did, which further drives Maria to feel obsolete, and to wonder if this older character is perhaps an uncomfortable reflection of herself.

Clouds-of-Sils-Maria-14I didn’t find the story-telling in this movie to be quite satisfactory, but the performances were top-notch. There’s an intense, almost sexual chemistry between Binoche and Stewart that makes their rehearsals a rare treat to watch. Not often are two such strong female characters allowed to shine on the screen together with such naked feeling.

Binoche loved the idea of this movie so much that she approached director Olivier Assayas with it and convinced him to write the script as well. In a funny meta twist, Assayas co-wrote the script of Rendez-Vous, which was the film that helped make Binoche a star. Binoche claims she strove for such authenticity that she accepted a brief role in Godzilla just so she could o-CLOUDS-OF-SILS-facebookbelievably deliver a line about acting in blockbusters.

Chanel (the fashion house) stepped in not only with wardrobe but with financing so that Assayas could film in 35mm. The movie does in fact look totally gorgeous, not least because it’s filmed on location in Sils Maria, Switzerland. And Binoche reins over this film with stately grace, simmering jealousy, raging insecurity – every bit of it layered and nuanced to perfection. Maria is dealing with a changing industry and a role that requires alarming introspection, but what Binoche and company accomplish is to make us ask ourselves – are we Sigrids, or are we Helenas?

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29 thoughts on “Clouds of Sils Maria

  1. Christopher

    This is a fantastic review of a film that sounds fascinating and timely at a time when Maggie Gyllenhall was recently told 37 was “too old” to play the love interest of a 55-year old man.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if Binoche has been on the receiving end of ageism too, although we’ve all been very lucky she’s had a steady career.

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  2. Carrie Rubin

    Sounds interesting. I keep hearing about Kristen Stewart in all these movies, but I haven’t seen any of them yet. I’d be interested to see her play a part with more emotion than she’s shown in the past.

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    1. reocochran

      She did an excellent job playing Julianne Moore’s daughter in the young woman who had early Alzheimer’s movie, “Still Alice.” I loved Kristen Stewart in this one because she resists and doesn’t respond, just like a young self-absorbed daughter might do. I got immersed in this movie and didn’t think once of her being a “vampire” 🙂 Hope this is okay to suggest, Carrie. I loved the book, too.

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    2. Jay Post author

      I haven’t seen the Twilight films but they still managed to give me a bad taste for her. The last couple of movies I’ve seen her in have sold her to me a little bit – before this, I thought the only acting she ever did was to bite her lower lip.

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  3. idioglossiablog

    Curiosity peaked 🙂 I love Binoche, but I have to admit Stewart has yet to win me over. I keep trying but for me she’s essentially the same in every role she plays. Great review, so good in fact I’m willing to give Ms Stewart another try. 😉 G-uno

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  4. Paul S

    Kristen Stewart is great and only getting better. It seems like every time I watch her, she’s better than I remember. Clouds of Sils Maria might not even be her best performance of last year, as she was also excellent in Camp X-Ray, and I haven’t seen Still Alice yet.

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  5. J.

    This sounds pretty interesting. Thrown onto the watch list (though quite when I’ll get to see it is another matter).

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  6. reocochran

    Jay, I liked this review and I would watch this film. I liked Kristen, as I mentioned (or butted in and replied) to Carrie.She gave an excellent performance in “Still Alice,” which showed her resisting and not willing to help her mother, but slowly it evolved, she learned and became a better person, daughter. . . Did you like this movie, Jay?

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    1. Jay Post author

      I did like Still Alice. I’m a fan of the author of the books, and I just read her new one which was about Huntington’s.

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  7. John Charet

    Great review 🙂 I saw this last year, but I can not remember too well (that does not mean I hate it or love it) but I will have to see it again to make another judgment. You know who one of my many favorite foreign actresses of all-time? Catherine Deneuve. She is great in a lot of the films she is in 🙂 Anyway, keep up the great work as always 🙂

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  8. Birgit

    I haven’t even heard of this film and you wrote such a great review I so want to see it. I love Binoche and, despite those va,pure flicks, Stewart seems to be doing ok with her career. Throw in Switzerland and I really would love to see this.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Oh man, as far as travel porn goes, this one’s pretty solid. The characters hike a lot so you get great vistas of the mountains and valleys.

      Liked by 1 person

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  9. Silver Screenings

    This film made me change my mind about Kristen Stewart. I had only seen her in a Snow White type of flick, and I couldn’t see what the big deal was. But she’s terrific in this film, as is Juliette Binoche. Like you, I’m sure I was entirely satisfied with the telling of the story, especially Stewart’s last scene in the film, but I loved how it was about women grappling with issues women face.

    Great review!

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yes, that’s right, I’d forgotten about that Snow White one, but yeah, I definitely couldn’t see her appeal. And I still think she comes off as mostly surly when you see her in interviews and stuff.

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      1. Widdershins

        I remember reading somewhere that she knows whatever she says will be spun one way or another so she feels quite reticent to say anything at all … not necessarily a bad thing, eh? .. let her performances do the talking.

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  10. Brittani

    I loved Kristen Stewart in this. I thought she was fabulous. The film was a bit slow, but like you said, top notch acting.

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  11. Widdershins

    One theory about the sorta/kinda parallels between the remakes characters and Juliet and Kristen’s characters is that when they’re rehearsing the lines, the dialogue is actually about their own relationship … the beauty of the film is that you never really know for sure. 😀

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  12. calensariel

    Sounds very engaging to me. That theme of getting older is right up my alley these days. I think that’s why I fell in love with Khaled Hosseini’s book “And the Mountains Echoed.” But as I’ve said before, we never see HALF of these movies in Utah. Sucks!

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