Being a movie nut, I was recently confronted with a frightening situation where I had almost zero new films to watch on two short flights to and back from a holiday to Japan. There’s only so many times a man can watch Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (and trust me, it was tempting to experience its awesomeness again), but in the end I went with probably the only film on the roster I would have watched under normal circumstances, Clouds of Sils Maria.
This is a weird one because the trailers made it look like some sexy thriller, but in actuality it’s an arty farty piece that throws a lot of subtle considerations your way without really coming out and saying anything.
Oscar-winner Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, a successful but ageing actress who scored her break years ago by playing the young lead in the film and stage versions of Maloja Snake, written by some old dude named Wilhelm. It’s about a tempestuous lesbian relationship between a young woman and an old woman that ends in tragedy. In present day, Wilhelm carks it, but Maria is presented with the opportunity to star in the remake of Maloja Snake, this time as the older woman. Adding to the intrigue is that she has a trustworthy assistant played brilliantly by Kristen Stewart, whose relationship with her at times appears to mirror that of the play. At the same time, the new choice for the young lead, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, has a completely different take on the character Maria thought she knew better than anyone.
So as you can see, this is a film with plenty of intricacies and parallels and layers, many of which are pointed out by the characters themselves in those pretentious discussions I used to partake in with my writing and film classmates (in class only, of course, because we had to). It’s an interesting film to watch because it makes you think, and it’s helped by the wonderful performances from the trio of central female characters, in particular Kristen Stewart, who proves once again that Twilight can turn even the most talented of thespians into a flaming turd. Don’t just take it from me. Stewart actually won a Best Supporting Actress at the Cesars (or the French Oscars, if you will).
I wasn’t drugged up on this flight, so it’s no excuse that the film — at an understandable 123 minutes — began to lose me towards the end. One of the film’s best attributes is that you never really know where it is heading, but eventually I didn’t really care. Perhaps it was all those annoying announcements they have to deliver every few minutes in three different languages that forced the film to be paused multiple times throughout, or maybe it’s because I started to see through its pretentiousness.
Still, for a mid-flight movie, Clouds of Maria Sils more than performs its duty. It has a clever premise and strong performances that challenge you to contemplate its subtleties and layered depth, though the experience was ultimately a pretty hollow one.
3.5 stars out of 5