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Clouds of Sils Maria
Clouds of Sils Maria is the latest film from writer-director Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours). The film stars Juliette Binoche as an acclaimed actress revisiting the play which helped to launch her acting career to stardom decades before. Produced by Charles Gillibert (On The Road, Certified Copy), Clouds of Sils Maria is an arthouse drama about being an actress in an industry obsessed with youth.
Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a highly successful actress who has been well regarded for her performances for decades. She is given an offer to star in a new production of a play: one which helped to launch her acting career when she was young. Yet Maria soon discovers that she will be playing opposite of Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young actress who has become much more popular as a celebrity.
Maria enlists the help of her younger assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to help her prepare for the role in the play. The two of them work together to practice lines and discuss the role. Valentine is a huge fan of the work of Maria Enders but is also impressed by Jo-Ann Ellis. During their discussions, Maria becomes concerned with her status as an actress: wondering if she has become eclipsed by her co-star Ellis. As she practices, Maria Enders contemplates what it means to be an actress and about the work she's done during her career.
Clouds of Sils Maria is centered upon the character-based drama surrounding Binoche's character in the film. It's a story that is mainly about what it means to age in the world of professional acting. Maria Enders has found so much success but she worries she is being replaced or becoming forgotten. The film is almost entirely about her and her journey as she prepares to revisit the play.
The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux (Only Lovers Left Alive, Swimming Pool) is quite beautiful. The use of color is impressive in the film: from the cool-blue to the golden-hue sometimes used throughout the film. The effort by Le Saux gives the film a nice aesthetic.
Costumes were designed by Jürgen Doering (Something in the Air) and were well-done. The various styles in the film felt quite well-matched for the characters. The production design created by François-Renaud Labarthe (Lady Chatterley, Something in the Air) also does a effective job of establishing the world of the story.
The performances by the leads are the best thing going for Clouds of Sils Maria. The performance delivered by Juliette Binoche is especially thoughtful and impressive. The supporting performances by Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz are also quite effective. Each actress brings something special to their roles. Stewart also earned a César award for her performance, which is the first time that has happened for an American actress.
Written and Directed by Olivier Assayas, Clouds of Sils Maria has a lot of good things going for it: excellent performances, solid filmmaking, and good production values. Yet the film feels a bit disappointing for an Assayas film. The screenplay doesn't have a lot going on: the film carries a rather slow pace and focuses so much on the conversational exchanges between the characters that the story is secondary. Clouds of Sils Maria feels like a light Assayas film and though it should be seen by fans of the filmmaker, the film isn't as strong as it could be.
There are impressive moments where the film feels intelligent and thoughtful, and moments where it seems to be dragging along and is a bit dull. Having seen other films which explore similar concepts on aging in film and theatre, including works directed by John Cassavetes, it certainly felt as though this was an underdeveloped story.
The film has interesting ruminations but there isn't as much compelling drama going on in this effort. Director Ari Folman's The Congress is a recent film with a much more creative way of exploring what is essentially the same concept (exploring the life and ruminations of an aging actress working within the industry) and it does so with a sci-fi element and through a blend of animation and live-action.
I disliked how little music was in this film. It's certainly not a first for Assayas but for this film it seemed especially notable how little music was used. There is no film score and there are only a small number of selections used sparingly during the production. Clouds of Sils Maria needed a stronger musical component.
Fans of writer-director Olivier Assayas should check out the film given that it contains excellent performances from Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloë Grace Moretz. Clouds of Sils Maria has good things going for it. It just lacks the dramatic punch necessary to make it feel like a great character-drama. It's a sometimes interesting effort (even if it's a film that doesn't succeed on every level).
Clouds of Sils Maria arrives on DVD with a reasonably strong presentation. The film is in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 widescreen. The release has been given anamorphic widescreen enhancement for 16:9 HDTV's. This film is actually a change of pace for the filmmaker. Olivier Assayas shot on 35mm film instead of using digital for the first time.
The film is presented in English 5.1 Dolby Digital. The audio is reasonably good sounding. Dialogue clarity is excellent (which is the most important aspect of the release). Clouds of Sils Maria is relatively silent and there are passages without sound. There is no score and minimal music. Clouds of Sils Maria essentially relies on the conversations between characters to carry the filmmaking so the presentation does a fine job presenting the sound mix as it was intended.
Optional French 5.1Dolby Digital audio is also provided on this release. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are provided. Closed Captioning is included.
There are no supplements included on this release.
Clouds of Sils Maria is a bit of a disappointing effort from filmmaker Olivier Assayas. The production quality is excellent and there are good performances but the storytelling isn't as compelling as it could have been. Fans of the filmmaker and the stars may want to rent it. Unfortunately, however, Clouds of Sils Maria just isn't as entertaining as it's aspirations.
Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.