Olivier Assayas, director of this wonderful piece, has been writing for film since the late 70s in France. I’ve seen nothing of his work, I know nothing of his methods, after seeing his latest, Clouds of Sils Maria, I already rather like his style.
Firstly, more films need to be made around St Moritz; the scenery amongst the crowds of mountains jutting up majestically on the border of Switzerland and Italy is fantastic. Beautiful natural light fills low-flying cloud that we see from atop a grassy knoll opposite a snowy pass. The ideas of the unknown and anxiousness and loneliness are no more or less powerful in this open space than those a filmmaker can evoke in a bustling metropolis, they’re just different, and we as an audience need to know that.
So the outdoor sequences all look like the magic moment at the end of The Deer Hunter but a good film often has a good plotline and Sils is no exception. Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, an actress in town to receive an award on behalf of the theatre director whom made her famous over 20 years prior. Said director, originally not attending probably because he’s old and publically reclusive, kills himself just hours before the ceremony which despite Juliette’s assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) expertly juggling the LCD screens connected to Maria’s other issues like a divorce settlement, interviews, new jobs etc. – despite all these efforts to make life easy, really lowers the bloody mood.
Maria shows up mentally and accepts the award, she puts on a press-face and tolerates the intolerables when Valentine informs her that Klaus, an up and coming, respected director – a young, German PTA for arguments sake – wants to remake that play in honour of the deceased. Originally, a plotline revolving around a lonesome swan of an older woman that’s re-awakened by a moody but vivacious young vixen (like a grittier version of Hayne’s Carol) she starred as the young’un, in an edgy twist our new man in the Director’s seat wants Maria holding the other end of the story’s stick this time round. Unsurprisingly, Maria’s developed as an actress and person since the last time she performed that play; she’s more intelligent, experienced and nuanced now than the raw, frenetic talent she once stole the show with. Questioning her suitably for her new role, and if she even wants to “go there”, things get a little bit Synecdoche, New York as Maria works her creative process and we watch to see how it affects her life.
So that may sound a little odd. The film shows you the behind-the-scenes of theatre excellently, like Birdman did with 90% less caricature but with just as much intensity; I often overly-deliberate committing to a long book but Maria has to commit to living another life for months, that’s tough. That toughness and that fragility, that malleability on the stage but astute stubbornness in making calls in real life – it’s all there in Binoche. I think I’m yet to dislike a role of hers, I loved her in Three Colours: Blue and Chocolat in particular. Also, Kristen Stewart, I’m not going to watch American Ultra because I hear it sucks and I don’t want to lower my opinion of you, but you’re also becoming one of my faves, even if you do always play the same character.
There is the subtlest commentary woven in on art, the subjectivity of art and how things change to you as you change yourself; “Literature is like an object, your perspective changes depending on where you’re standing” – these felt like Assaya’s personal thoughts running throughout, I’d love to have a beer with the guy frankly.
A brilliant film, Chloë Grace Moretz comes in and livens everything up at the right time AND there are multiple scenes where a wonderful rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon is played over images of those beautiful mountains.
Maria, you’ve gotta see her.