I saw Clouds of Sils Maria last night and am still not quite sure what i think of it. I am, in fact, a little hesitant to express my ambivalence in the light of all the glowing reviews the film, directed by Olivier Assayas, has been met with, and am secretly worried that i will lose feminist cred by not declaring my undying love for it. My friend and i decided that it is pretty much what you would get if Ingmar Bergman did a remake of All about Eve: slow, talky, ambiguous, the kind of movie that you appreciate more in retrospect than while you are watching. It's not a movie i would encourage everyone i know to run out and see, but neither would i discourage it. I'm sitting here this morning thinking about it (as i knew i would be) and am very glad to have seen it. It is a movie that explores questions of time, aging, celebrity, art, and above all the lives of women. It is, of course, a rare pleasure to watch a movie with three strong female roles played by Kristen Stewart (who is finally gaining some acknowledgement as the good actress she is), Chlöe Grace Moretz (in a chillingly chameleon-like role), and the always mesmerizing Juliette Binoche. An additional treat was the presence in the film of Angela Winkler, who -- to this viewer at least -- is best known for her powerful youthful performances in The Lost Honor of Katerina Blum (1975) and The Tin Drum (1979).
The film takes great advantage of its setting and made me want to pack my bags and go back to Switzerland and walk along Alpine trails having deep conversations. Plus it included archival footage from this beautiful little 1924 documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQMT5v0yk9o.
In that sense, it reminds me of Mindwalk (1990), another such cerebral journey through a remarkable yet strangely ephemeral landscape. In the latter film, three people meet on Mont St. Michel, an island accessible only briefly at low tide. In Clouds of Sils Maria, the play that made Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) a star and to which she is debating a return is named after the Maloja Snake, a phenomenon in which -- under specific atmospheric conditions -- the clouds slowly and sinuously weave a path between the mountains, a metaphor for both the younger character in the play and the young actress aspiring to play the role.
As the number of other films that i have mentioned thus far would suggest, one of the very real pleasures of Clouds of Sils Maria for any serious film lover is the extent to which it evokes connections to a surprisingly varied array of other films. In one of the very few truly lighthearted moments in the movie, for example, film star Maria Enders and her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) go to see the latest movie starring Jo-Ann Ellis (Chlöe Grace Moretz), the young tabloid-magnet who wants to reprise Enders' star-making role. The film is a 3-D sci-fi trifle that -- to this viewer at least -- appears to have been filmed using the same set as the equally silly movie-within-a-movie in Albert Brooks' Modern Romance (1981).
I may not be there just yet, but i think that i might very well end up loving Clouds of Sils Maria in that enduring way that is so much more satisfying than those movies that we can't wait to drag all our friends to but then have trouble remembering a few months later. In the meantime, i leave it to you, dear reader, to see it if you will and form your own opinion.