Clouds of Sils Maria is a curious French film from director Olivier Assayas that focuses on the thespian world of fictional celebrated French actress, Maria Enders played by celebrated French actress Juliette Binoche.
Assayas’ film doesn’t take the cynical scathing approach I love when it comes to films narrowing on the film industry but adopts a more demure and studious approach as we spend large amounts of the film just trying to figure out the pseudo melancholic non-enigma that is Maria Enders. There are times I felt like an intern waiting and watching in the wings with fascination ready to take over from Enders’ current geeky chuckie-wearing personal assistant, Valentine, who looks bored stiff by the job she does so well.
The film opens with Enders and Valentine heading to Zurich to attend a tribute for a heralded playwright named Wilhelm Melchior but en route, news arrives that Melchior has died but that notwithstanding, the tribute goes ahead. We soon learn how integral Melchior is to Enders as years before, he wrote a play, “Maloja Snake,” about a corporate boss (Helena) who has an affair with a manipulative young woman (Sigrid) in her office who was played then by a young Maria Enders.
Now much older, Enders has been asked to feature in this same play only this time as the older boss. The film reaches an exceptional high for me when scenes with Enders and Valentine working with the play’s script present themselves. Enders reads lines from the script with Valentine’s help and there is this uncertainty as to whether the dialogue belongs to the play or to Maria and Valentine themselves which initially hits us with glorious ambiguous poise.
We can’t really tell where fiction ends and reality begins for these two characters and their relationship at times appears to have parallels with the relationship of the central characters in the play they are preparing for. It’s the bits like this, among others, that make this film a one of a kind entrée into the world of acting and when the film develops a more surreal tone that may puzzle some, it only brings to the fore the psychological layers that come with the thespian craft, especially for one as obsessive and accomplished as Maria Enders.
The film also presents to us young actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is the kind of movie star tailor made for our generation. Jo-Ann is set to play the manipulating young character Enders played years before and Internet searches of her don’t make for kind viewing as Enders finds out. The Internet is rife with Jo-Ann’s meltdowns and foul-mouthed encounters with paparazzi which leaves us to wonder what the director of the “Maloja Snake” remake sees in her.
We do get a sense of what Enders thinks of her or rather the fact that she has been pushed into the role of the older woman, the game for the young seductress to dabble. She knows full well what it means to be pulling the strings. This also ties in with her own natural fears of growing old and dealing with that age and the progression of time as an actress she deems a polar opposite of her is about to immerse in a role dear to her. As the film progresses Assayas turns the Jo-Ann-Lindsey Lohan act on its head in amusing fashion as that character comes off more composed than we perhaps thought as the character begins to resemble one Kristen Stewart may be very well familiar with.
The best bits of still remain the passive aggressive- sexual innuendo-laden banter between Enders and Valentine which is simply mesmerising – I could listen to them go on for days. In one of their numerous discussions they talk about Jo-Ann, having come out of one of her films, and the younger Valentine is more lenient towards her talent and work and perhaps gives her more credit than is due whilst Enders laughs hard at the thought of Jo-Ann being taken seriously.
The performances of these women are genuinely terrific and a lesson in understated brilliance. Binoche plays her elegant doom and gloom character to great effect but Kristen Stewart is in the form of her life playing the devoted assistant who at times seems oddly disinterested in her job with a shrug the most animated thing she does.
The closest film to this I can think of is probably Birdman (because it’s fresh on my mind) but I can’t say I found this film a full satire or a scathing drama in the mould of Maps to the Stars which coincidentally starred Robert Pattison but it is a very witty and intelligent piece of work that has stimulated an interest in the film’s director, Olivier Assayas, who really pushes the limits of subtlety but comes of beaming.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana