Clouds of Sils Maria Review (TIFF2014)

Posted 7 years ago by myetvmedia

Clouds of Sils Maria began as a challenge from Juliette Binoche to Olivier Assayas: could he create a role for a middle-aged woman that was as rich, as complex, and as fascinating as the brilliant roles he’d crafted for her in her youth? It’s a challenge so few filmmakers take up. Perhaps this is why Clouds feels like a breath of fresh air. Liberating in its freedom, Assayas’ film is a courageous journey, rewarding you at every turn.

The finest actors don’t act, they simply are. But when the role becomes becomes reality, something deeper is revealed. How much of an actor is bared in their character? And how much do we expect them to bleed for their part? Assayas prods this razor-thin separation in his powerful new film starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz. The ride along is both satisfying and surprising, and if you’re exhausted at the end, just imagine how the actors must feel.

The film centres around Maria (Juliette Binoche), a role both created for and clearly based on Binoche herself. Maria has long been a famous actress, her big exposure coming from a provocative play she’d performed in during her youth. Twenty years later, she’s asked to join a remount, but instead of playing the ingenue, she’s cast as the pained and pathetic older lover. Maria struggles with the role she carries strong memories of, despite the new perspectives offered by her much younger personal assistant, Val (Kristen Stewart). When the lolita role is filled by a scandal-seeking young actress (Chloë Grace Moretz), Maria must come to terms with her own aging and the loss of her identity.

The line between Binoche and Maria is a blur. Like her character, Binoche finds herself at an age where actresses are forgotten: they’re too old to be the object of desire, too young to be the Mother Superior. Clouds of Sils Maria is Binoche’s way of coping with the change, and she bears all of her insecurities in the process. When she hollers in pain, it’s not just a character who screams out, it’s Binoche herself. It’s her fears, her jealousies, her need for approval that we watch. That level of selflessness is brave in the best of roles, but it gains an especially higher meaning for her, an actress known for her beauty and poise. Binoche bares all. Is there a more difficult role than that?

Behind her, Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz hold their own with respectable performances that fit without stealing the spotlight. Moretz slips into the Lindsay Lohan-ish troubled star character like a fitted glove, and with her extreme success at such a young age, it’s really no wonder. Stewart feels equally as suited for her role, though her character is not only a contrast to her own persona, but Val the assistant actually comments on Kristen the actress: while describing the Moretz character, she mentions cheating on a heartthrob actor in a high-profile romance, a scandal that shook Stewart’s own life. The comparison is made obvious, but Stewart doesn’t let it derail her into expected places. Val is Maria’s gateway to modernity, as frightening as it is, and Stewart holds her own as an imposing force to Binoche’s resistance. Her delivery is straight and clean, without any pretence. She’s an open book – a brave act in its own right.

Clouds of Sils Maria, has its North American debut at TIFF after competing for the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Highly recommended.

Nimy Leshinski

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