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Clouds of Sils Maria - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Clouds of Sils Maria
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

Clouds of Sils Maria is the kind of "for mature audiences" movie that has no sex in it -- but rather, is for older audiences. Some might say elderly. This seems to be the case with the majority of movies that play at Seattle's Seven Gables Theatre. It's a good place to go and feel young.

And how's this for a bit of irony: Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a 40-year-old actress playing the part of the older woman in a revival of a film that launched her career when she played the younger part twenty years earlier. There is much made of Maria's age and changing perspective regarding both parts in the script. The thing is, Binoche is actually 51. Even in a movie about an aging actress, she has to play a decade younger. To her credit, she's beautiful enough for it to be believable.

That said, writer-director Olivier Assayas infuses his rich script with multiple meta layers, and it's possible the age difference between Binoche and Maria is part of the point. Granted, his point is difficult to pin down, but there are rewards in the search for it. And as it happens, Assayas co-wrote Rendez-vous, which helped launch Binoche's career.

A lot about the making of Clouds of Sils Maria is arguably more interesting than Clouds of Sils Maria itself. The plot is complex but slow going, and there is an minor, odd disconnect between Assayas's classic filmmaking style and the modern, Internet-era in which it's presenting itself. More than once we hear Maria's personal assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), say "You should Google her," among several references to paparazzi and viral videos. And then the editing makes this movie feel like something from the 1960s, with slow fades to black and slow dissolves between scenes. In one sequence, the dissolve is so slow that we see two shots superimposed longer than feels like transition. But maybe that was just one way to make watching Kristen Stewart vomit more palatable.

The acting is very good, however; the surprising element being Stewart more than holding her own opposite Binoche, especially considering the intricate layers in the script. (Stewart won the César award for Best Supporting Actress, the first American woman ever to win a César.) It's clear very early on that Maria's relationship with Valantine directly mirrors that of the older woman and personal assistant portrayed in the script from which they keep running lines, but it's impressively nuanced and subtle. We see long before they do that the lines they are saying to each other, memorized or read for a script notwithstanding, very much represent how the actress and assistant are relating to each other in the real world. Or rather, the "real world" of this movie. (If Juliette Binoche developed an actual, sudden attraction to Kristen Stewart, I think everyone on the cast and crews' heads would explode.)

There is also much debate between Maria and Valentine regarding how relatable the characters are in this movie they're working on -- the young woman having been played by Maria twenty years ago but being very much represented in relation to Maria by Valentine, and the older woman being played by Maria now. So who's playing the young woman now? A TMZ-mainstay young actress named Jo-Ann Ellis, Jo-Ann being played by the reliably excellent Chloë Grace Moretz. Moretz's part is much smaller but she takes what few scenes she has and knocks them out of the park. She's also perfect as a young actress with experience playing a superhero, given her roles in the Kick-Ass movies, those being far from her best work notwithstanding.

Much of Clouds of Sils Maria takes place in the Swiss Alps town of Sils Maria -- hence the title, thereby giving even that a double meaning. The clouds reference the "Maloja Snake", something that can be seen in the valleys through the mountains that make them resemble a slithering snake, when weather conditions are right. This becomes the setting of a final scene between Maria and Valentine that mirrors the end of the relationship between the characters they are reading.

The scenery is beautiful, but Clouds of Sils Maria demands a lot more attention than some might feel a film with this little action or even drama warrants. It's all in the dialogue, and that creates a bit of a niche audience. This might be doing better in France -- though mostly in English, this is mostly a European film -- but it's not going to get any huge success in the States. Not enough older intellectuals go to the movies, because box office returns are dependent on dimwits. But for those with the intellectual capacity, this film's depth of dialogue may be its own reward.

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart have a meta relationship in LOUDS OF SILS MARIA.

Overall: B
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