Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
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Former film critic Olivier Assayas is probably one of those few people who inspire me on a creative level. Not that strange if you consider one of Assayas' own influences: anarchist and situationist Guy Debord. French intellectuals in the 1960s were, in my opinion, too often needlessly complex theoretically and parlor socialists or would-be revolutionaries politically. In contrast, Debord's refreshing anarchist views were typical for the radicality of the 1968-generation and were more about individual freedom, artistic aspirations and fighting against a new form of determinism: consumption. In that respect, Assayas' Après mai was one of the best films I've seen in years. In Clouds of Sils Maria he puts on his meta-shoes and tells the story about an older actress who'll perform in the same play she did when she was young: Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders who plays Helena. In the meanwhile Valentine (a brilliant Kristen Stewart, who would've expected?!), the personal assistant of Maria, resembles a version of Maria when she was young. Joanne Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), an up-and-coming actress with the reputation of a troublemaker, is Maria's co-star in the theater play. But when the play (about a young girl (Sigrid) who seduces an older woman (Helena)) starts to reflect reality (especially because Maria used to play Sigrid herself), the film begins to get an extra - metaphorical - layer. In the end we are confronted with thoughts about time, change, fame, getting older and conflict between generations. Clouds of Sils Maria is a beautiful film with some very good acting, especially by Stewart. It also raises interesting questions about contemporary stardom and transience. Nevertheless, this movie is (feels?) less personal than Assayas' previous one and therefor misses a bit of the uppercut I was hoping for.
Don't you have the feeling that the actresses were playing themselves all the time?
Clouds of Sils Maria is a thoughtful, meta-textual meditation on aging and how it changes one's perspective. Juliette Binoche plays a shade of herself, an aging actress offered a part in a revival of the play (and subsequent film) that made her famous, this time playing the older woman's part. Running her lines with her assistant played by Kristen Stewart in the younger role, also the role of an assistant, at time playfully confuses as to whether we're hearing the play or a real conversation, as Binoche's hatred of the part starts to make their working relationship toxic. The third cog in this machine is Chloë Grace Moretz as the young star meant to play the role Binoche USED to play. We're meant to draw comparisons between the three actresses, their roles and the roles those roles are playing, and over the course of this finely tuned but often ambiguous character study, come to some kind of realization about accepting change and owning our new selves. The film doesn't spoon-feed the audience, leaving us to interpret a moment, a glance, a gesture, but then this is about acting. Let's let the acting do the work.
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In 2 official lists
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This movie ranks #543 in The 21st Century's Most Acclaimed Films
This movie ranks #962 in The Criterion Collection