Thursday, 21 January 2016

Clouds of Sils Maria (4 Stars)

Sometimes a film is too arty for its own good. "Clouds of Sils Maria" is a remarkably clever film that will fascinate movie insiders, but it only made back a fraction of its budget at the box office. Ironically, the film features Kristen Stewart's best ever acting performance, but most people will never see it. She was nominated as Best Supporting Actress at 19 smaller film festivals, of which she won eight.

The film takes place in the beautiful mountains of Switzerland. Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a woman who made her debut at 18 in a film called "Malorja Snake". It was a film about a young woman, Sigrid, who joined a company as the personal assistant of the boss, Helena. Sigrid was a manipulative young woman. A lesbian relationship ensued between the two, and when Sigrid left Helena killed herself. It's now 25 years later. Maria is a famous actress, and she's travelling to Zurich to present a lifetime award to Wilhelm Melchior, the director of "Malorja Snake", when she hears that he has died.

The awards ceremony goes ahead. A young director approaches Maria and tells her he's putting on a theatre production of "Malorja Snake", and he would like Maria to play the part of Helena. Sigrid will be played by a young American actress, Jo-Ann Ellis (played by Chloe Grace Moretz), famous for her wild lifestyle and Internet scandals.

Maria disagrees with the casting of Jo-Ann at first, because she considers her to be a shallow person who has only appeared in action films. When she meets her she's amazed to find out that Jo-Ann is an intelligent and polite young woman. In fact, Maria was Jo-Ann's inspiration to become an actress.

When Maria re-acquaints herself with the script she sees "Malorja Snake" in a different way. She had enjoyed it when she was playing the manipulator, but she's horrified to see herself as the manipulated woman. She sees it as a reflection of her own life. When she was 18 she was in control, now that she's 43 she's being used. This is made worse when the wife of Jo-Ann's lover, a famous playwright, attempts suicide on finding out about her husband's infidelity.

The film concentrates on the relationship between Maria Enders and her young personal assistant Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart, proving to the world that she really can act. They sit together or walk in the mountains rehearsing the lines. Maria speaks Helena's lines, while Valentine reads Sigrid's lines from a book. Maria repeatedly interrupts the rehearsing to criticise the dialogue, but Valentine defends it steadfastly. As the days go by a relationship begins between Maria and Valentine, inspired by the power of the script. Valentine becomes Sigrid.

I admit this film isn't for everyone. It's a slow film with almost no action, relying on dialogue and inter-personal relationships. This is art for the sake of art. It's beautiful. It's inspiring.

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