By Dave Montalbano
The Clouds of Sils Maria is a two-hour piece of visual poetry. But people who keep reviewing the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer …for the 47th time … might not appreciate the slow pace, beautiful scenery and levels of emotional subtext. The film invokes memories of the 1970s, when Ingmar Bergman, Louis Malle and Francois Truffant films enjoyed the limelight on the marquee of art house cinemas.
The film opens on a crowded train. Valentine (Kristen Stewart) is the handler for veteran actress Maria Enders (Julliette Binoche), who is enroute to a film festival to accept a lifetime achievement award for her auteur director, Wilhelm Melchoir. Melchoir had directed a play that made Maria a young star … 20 years ago.
A hotshot new generation director wants to direct the same play and cast Maria as older rival. This forces Maria to escape to Sils Maria and contemplate. Taking Valentine with her, Maria escapes to the bucolic beauty of the white mountains. Despite having a constant companion who’s connected with current trends and fads in show business, Maria suffers from bouts of loneliness and a sense of impending mortality.
An Oscar winner for The English Patient, Juliette Binoche is Europe’s answer to Meryl Streep. With subtle nuance, Binoche makes her Maria Enders a full character, consistent with quirky contradictions. She is not afraid to let herself look ugly during emotionally revealing scenes. At age 50, Binoche holds her own in a brief skinny dipping scene with Kristen Stewart.
As she puts her Twilight years behind her, Stewart is garnering her best notices for her supporting work in this film, for which she won the Cesar Award in France, and also in Still Alice. Stewart’s Valentine first reveal presents a tough multitasking front for her boss. Yet, in the mountains of Sils Maria, Valentine’s emotional shield begins to crumble. The interplay between the 25-year-old Stewart and the 50-year-old Binoche resonates with a rare truth found in movies these days.
This film is full of subtle symbolism. Yet, director/ writer Olivier Assayas does not get bogged down with art house intentions, but creates some fine comedic moments between Binoche and Stewart. Some of the best laughout- loud moments involves Chloe Grace Morentz as the flaky female lead who will be portraying the young Juliette Binoche.
The Clouds of Sils Maria cannot compete with the box office juggernauts of 50 Shades of Gray or Furious 7. However, Juliette Binoche’s performance has haunted more than Dakota Johnson and Michelle Rodriquez.