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Clouds of Sils Maria (2015) Reviewed By Jay

United States, 04 April 2014


Jay´s Review

An veteran actress must watch a young woman take the ingénue role in the revival of a play that had originally made her a star. This time our heroine has been cast as the older character. Her personal assistant, errand girl and general dogsbody travels with her, manages her complicated schedule and runs lines with her for her new role.

Written and directed by Olivier Assayas ("Paris, je t'aime"), this R-rated film explores the effects of aging, ego and generational differences. It is also a showcase for the brilliant Binoche, who continues to dazzle me with her ability to inhabit a role, speak English smoothly and work with no makeup or frills throughout a large segment of this film. (Notice I said "film." This is "artistic" and as such is murmured and oblique, but very well acted.) She also strips down to the altogether and dives into an alpine lake. Brrrr.....

The cast:

  • * Juliette Binoche ("The English Patient") We begin with Maria Enders, an established star enroute to accept an award for a fellow who launched her career decades ago. Before she arrives, he is dead.
  • * Kristen Stewart ("Twilight" and "Snow White and the Huntsman") Maria's personal assistant Valentine, is smart, efficient and opinionated. She is a big fan of the American actress cast as the ingénue.
  • * Chloë Grace Moritz ("Laggies" and "Hugo") Jo-Anne is just coming off a super-hero role in an American blockbuster. She is the darling of the paparazzi and is having a blast.

There are times we have to stay with a scene for awhile before we are sure if we are seeing two women discuss certain real-life issues, or are watching a rehearsal of two characters discussing those same issues. Binoche moves smoothly between artistic films ("Caché") and light romantic comedies ("Dan in Real Life"). She is always good. The two younger actresses hold their own on the screen.

The title comes from a phenomenon that occurs in a certain part of Switzerland. Clouds creep into a valley and envelope everything. The locals call the effect "The Kaloja Snake." Several bits in the film are never explained (why did the widow burn those documents before she left the house?) but I was frustrated enough by the poor sound (there are no captions in an advance screening) that ultimately I didn't much care.

Expect lots of alcohol and cigarettes, brief nudity, some profanity, no gunshots or fisticuffs and certainly no blowie uppie stuff, but this one passes the Bechdel test with flying colors: Two female characters, both of whom have names, converse about a variety of topics, NOT about a man. What a concept!

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