In Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, there are scenes of arguments. Not just one scene. Not a couple.
The entire movie is where dialogue is just arguments of ideologies and interpretations.
The movie is very quick to point this out, with many scenes of international actor Maria Enders, played by Juliette Binoche with the class you’d expect, talking about the character she is most famous for playing and her interpretation of said character and others in that said fiction.
It’s with this sole distinction that Clouds of Sils Maria is an entirely fascinating film to watch.
Clouds is centered around Binoche’s Maria and her assistant Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart, as they prepare for Maria to star in the play that made her a star, only in a different role than she played previously.
The movie plays with dynamics in several different directions, asking you to do what you wish with what you see. Is this a movie of a prima-donna and her beleaguered assistant? Is it a movie about the differences of “classic” acting and the stardom of today? Does the play within the movie acts as a repository theme for the overall film itself?
The movie lives, and it dies, by the need for it to be interpreted.
Yet, many other films are the same exact way. You sit, you watch and you discuss what you saw and what it’s trying to say or how you feel from what the movie showed you.
Hell, any type of medium does this.
So, why does this movie, specifically, deserve a watch just for its interpretation on…well, interpretation?
Because, in all honesty, if you watch this movie expecting anything else, it’s a rather boring and poorly implemented movie.
Despite having two excellent performances by Binoche and Stewart, the latter being the better of the two surprisingly, the characters they play are barely characters. They are more of a template of a character playing a character. Meaning: they are terribly thin and without much merit.
The film has horrid editing and stylistic choices. There are scenes in this film that clearly needed to be reshot or be scrapped altogether, including an incredibly obvious Take 1/Take 30 cut.
There are needless subplots that don’t have any type of relevance to the film nor do they provide character. One scene in particular, involving a possibly drunk Stewart throwing up, uses an annoyingly “edgy” shake cam followed by some European heavy metal gibberish to show…who knows?
The story in itself, honestly, is a damn train wreck.
Yet, as mortifying as it as times, it’s equally as fascinating.
It’s strangely meta, but not in a fourth wall breaking sort of way, how it melds the dialogue practicing between the two main actress with the overall theme of the play. It’s like Vanya on 42nd Street or My Dinner With Andre only set in the mountains for a third of the film.
Which brings me to the ultimate question: why not have the film with those two actresses for an hour and 20 minutes? Or a short film for 40 minutes?
Take away the pretenses and the side-plots, just an simple film about two actresses practicing for this play.
Directors have done with far less on lesser budgets: this could have worked splendidly.
Instead of having a film that shows the rawness and baring of slipping into a character, we have a film that poses an interesting question of the interpretation of such characters and what they mean in the larger scope.
Yet, despite that message feeling eye-opening and fascinating, it leaves the feeling like there’s work to go through before you get to the good part.
If you willing to work through it, do it.
Otherwise, despite two great performances and an interesting theme, it’s a movie that’s hard to actually tell someone to watch, unless they want the challenge.
Make no mistake, it’s not an intellectual challenge to fight through: you should always strive to fight through intellect.
No, it’s the challenge of whether you want to dig through a septic tank in order to find a beautiful jewel.
I’ll leave that challenge to you.
The Wiz Says #73