Another fantastic piece from our Interactive review team: Clouds
of Sils Maria by Esther Vincent
Olivier Assayas’ Clouds
of Sils Maria is a deeply
thoughtful and introspective piece. Grounded in realism, Juliette Binoche and
Kristen Stewart help to unfold a richly textured story exploring split
motivations and differing perspectives.
Following the sudden death of the playwright Wilhelm
Melchior, experienced actress Maria Enders (Julliette Binoche) is cast into
doubt when invited to take part in a reboot of Wilhelm’s very production that
sparked her career when she was just 18 years old. Now, 20 years later, Maria
struggles with her recast as the older woman, her previous role having being usurped
by a young and rebellious rising star (Chloe Grace Moretz). With the
companionship of her young American assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart),
Maria strives to let go of the role of Sigrid, a suave and manipulative young
woman who seduces the vulnerable Helena, eventually driving her to suicide.
What seems to be the most striking theme in this production
is the subtle contrast and interaction of younger and older, as presented in
the close relationship between Maria and Valentine. Having known, and thrived
upon, only the role of Sigrid, Maria resists viewing her new role of Helena as
anything other than a weak and foolish woman. It is Valentine who offers up a
new perspective; that Helena is vulnerable, yes, but also human and far more
likeable for being such; ‘the text is like an object – it looks different
depending on where you’re standing’.
This is reflected in the contrast between Maria herself and
Jo Anna, the ‘new Sigrid’. Whilst Jo Anna is caught up in the whirlwind of fame
and presented as far more dislikeable, the story focusses on the day to day
proceedings of Maria and Valentine in the Swiss Alps; Jo-Ann’s scandals being
relayed by Valentine, highlighting just how out of touch Maria has become with
contemporary youth culture. The film focusses on Maria’s vulnerabilities and
yet she is seen far less cold for them – just like Helena.
Generally, the play Maloja
Snake appears to be a microcosm of the unfolding characters in the main
story; but for all the parallels the main focus of the play (certainly in the
trailer) seems to be an older woman falling in love with her younger
counterpart. It is no surprise that I went into this film expecting far more
romance (or at least some hints at sexual tension) between Maria and Valentine.
Instead, their relationship is more platonic – even maternal at some points.
The two women care deeply for each other, and in some places this was even
subverted; Valentine handles calls and organises Maria’s affairs whilst she
sits in the background. Stewart’s cool and casual demeanour is well suited to
this role; she gives off an air of being in control but constantly, mildly
stressed. Binoche presents Maria’s strength in a different way. She beautifully
contrasts Maria’s aloof glamour in a professional environment with her
gentleness around Valentine; showing the strain of her situation just enough to
make it believable.
Most scenes in the film depict conversations between the two
women, shifting fluidly later to the relationship between Maria and Jo-Anne.
These conversations show us the intricacies, similarities and differences
between the three women; they drive each other’s plots along the way. It is
this sharp focus that makes the film so rich, empathetic, and ultimately
incredibly thought provoking.