On the surface Hollywood and the film world looks like a society founded on glamour and beauty. Behind the scenes, because dollars and looks are so highly focused upon rather than quality, it is cutthroat. Actors and actresses will do anything to get roles and then keep themselves in the spotlight. It is a dog eat dog world. That is doubly so for actresses as there are precious few quality roles and aging is not looked upon kindly for women in film. Cruel and cold. Women in film are picked up then discarded as soon as they have served their purpose. From an outsider’s perspective it is a very interesting world to examine.
At the age of 18-years-old budding actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche – The English Patient, Chocolat) came to the public’s notice with her great performance in the play Maloja Snake. In the play she undertook the role of the aspiring Sigrid who gets under the skin of her boss Helen, who ends up committing suicide. Now twenty years later her successful career has been built upon that initial success. She is now been named to receive a prestigious award given by Wilhelm Melchoir, the man who wrote and directed the play that started her career off so gloriously, with the ceremony to be held in Zurich. Tragedy strikes when just before the ceremony Melchoir dies.
Around the same time a young director whose reputation is growing asks Maria to return to the play that started off her career. This time she, the internationally successful actress, will undertake the role of the older Helen with a notorious young Hollywood actress named Jo-Anne Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz – Kick-Ass, Hugo) playing Sigrid. Maria leaves for the remote Sils Maria in the Alps with her young female assistant to begin rehearsals. Once she meets her young co-star Maria begins to see how her life now is now a reflection of the play. She is alone in the world as she is going through a divorce and it seems like her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart – Twilight, Snow White and the Huntsman) is her only companion. Her co-star is at the same time her rival for the public’s affection as well as a mirror reflection of herself. Maria’s confidence has taken some bruising in an industry in which aging women are not respected or valued. Will reality duplicate fiction?
If you are not in the mood for a dialogue heavy picture then skip this one. Clouds of Sils Maria is heaped upon the able shoulders of its three female leads and they show themselves more that capable of carrying the film. Each of them plays a different type of character and yet they all get chances to shine and demonstrate what they are capable of. It was especially the tandem of Stewart and Binoche that caught my attention with each playing well off the other. The sexual tension they are able to convey between the women without it becoming comical is to be admired. Watching the deft and skill of Binoche in the role you cannot help but wonder if she is doing so well because she is going through the same thing in her professional career. She is that good.
Plenty of emotion involved without tumbling towards melodrama. Director and screenwriter Olivier Assayas (Paris, Je T’Aime) keeps a tight rein on things so as to not allow that to happen. He does this by pulling back and not divulging everything. Almost all of the important scenes are multi-layered. Meaning that not everything is stated, but you know that more is going on than can be heard or seen by the human eye. Subtext is everywhere. You have to use your heart and brain while watching this film. Still though it is not too confusing that you cannot understand fully what is going on. The fact that you have to “work” while watching makes the experience that much more enjoyable.
Stating the obvious that the director is a man, I go on to say that he has attempting to realistically shed light on female relationships and the experience of women in the film industry or acting in general. He does a fine job. Showing that the passage of time affects women in this occupation more so than it does men. I especially liked the fact that even though the story does not have a prototypical happy ending, it is one that is pleasing. An open ended finale to several of the stories is not frustrating, rather they leave you wanting more.
-Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart