Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

OLIVIER ASSAYAS

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BB.5

France/Switzerland/Germany/USA/Belgium, 2014CG Cinéma, Pallas Film, CAB Productions, Vortex Sutra, Arte France Cinéma, ZDF/Arte, Orange Studio, Radio Télévision Suisse, SRG SSR idée suisse, Ezekiel Film Production, Eurimages, Centre National de la Cinématographie, Arte France, Ciné+, Canal+, Deutscher Filmförderfonds, Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Filmförderungsanstalt, Office Fédéral de la Culture, MEDIA Programme of the European Union.  Screenplay by Olivier Assayas.  Cinematography by .  Produced by Charles Gillibert.  Production Design by Francois-Renaud Labarthe.  Costume Design by Jurgen Doering.  Film Editing by Marion Monnier.  Boston Film Critics Awards 2015.    Cannes Film Festival 2014. New York Film Critics Awards 2015. Online Film Critics Awards 2015.  Toronto International Film Festival 2014.  

Successful movie star Juliette Binoche is on her way to an awards ceremony honouring the playwright who launched her career decades earlier, with cell-phone laden assistant  perpetually behind her.  On the train ride to Zurich they learn that the event’s honouree, on whose behalf Binoche was planning to accept a prize, has passed away, plunging her into memories of her youth that only become more dire when she accepts a role in a restaging of the play she starred in as a young woman.  It’s about an older woman who allows herself to be destroyed over her passion for a young girl and this time Binoche is being asked, naturally, to play the part opposite the one she originated, which leads to weeks of learning lines in the titular Swiss village with Stewart on hand to run lines and referee her boss’s insecurities.  Binoche tries to convince herself that she is not bothered by this mark of time passing, instead trying to make it a case of the challenges in the material that meant little to her when she was a younger woman but now are impossible to ignore.  That may not be exactly what the crux of this muddled story is; it’s actually hard to tell what director Olivier Assayas is trying to make of the dramatic situation he has set up in this overlong, enjoyable mess of a film.  There’s a suggestion that the relationship in the text is mirroring the friction between Binoche and Stewart, both of them endlessly watchable and compelling, but every time their interactions move towards an uncomfortable reality the image fades out and moves on the next scene.  There is commentary about the present-day influence of social media movie stars (in the form of playing Binoche’s co-star in the play) and how little the world of obsessive celebrity worship has to do with the real actors who used to dominate cinema, but it is couched in unnecessarily repetitive scenes that deliver the same message without delving any deeper into their subject.  The multiple scenes of the two leads discussing text and how it relates to their own vulnerabilities and life experience (or lack thereof) are intelligently rendered and beautifully acted, with the topography of a place whose weather takes the form of magic effectively adding extra detail, but Assayas never makes anything substantial of all the ingredients on display.  If you’re a fan of anyone you are watching, and how could you not be, you’ll find that its ridiculous running time is easy to endure, but you’re never quite sure of what it is you just saw.

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