Thursday, October 9, 2014

Hall of Mirrors

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) - Assayas
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Delicious! Assayas' take on celebrity, acting, time passing is an extremely entertaining hall of mirrors. It concerns an aging movie star Maria (Juliette Binoche) and her personal (very)American assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) heading over to Switzerland to celebrate the life and work of the great stage/film director Wilhelm Melchoir who gave Maria her first big break in Maljora Snake, a mythical tale of two women, only to find out that he just passed on. Now Maria has to improvise an eulogy instead of tribute. Valentine is a very able assistant, always on her mobile devices arranging everything for Maria. She informs her movie star employer that a young hotshot director (Lars Eidinger of Alle Anderen), wants her to be in the stage production of Maljora Snake revival, but this time, he wants her to play the older part. The younger part Sigrid, the part that made her famous, is going to be played by Hollywood's rising star and the center of the gossip world, 19 yr old Jo-ann (Chlöe Moretz). This proposition takes Maria through a whirlwind of emotional turmoil. She hated the character of Helena who commits suicide after getting dumped by Sigrid. Time has passed: no longer young, she has to endure the fate of her predecessors. With much Valentine's urging, she accepts the role and immediately regrets it right afterwards. She googles Jo-ann's latest shenanigans where the little brat assaults police officers, blabbering her mouth off at various talkshows, etc. But nevertheless, she starts rehearsing the play with Valentine in the remote house (Wilhelm's) on the mountains in Switzerland. As they say the lines back and forth, the material strongly resembles their relationship without them noticing it.

This multi-layered reflections on real life situations with all the principals involved is wickedly entertaining. In Assayas hands, these materials are never trash but playful. There is not an ounce of wink-wink sarcasm of typical Hollywood satire. There is no surprise in the great Binoche, showing wide range of emotions of a seasoned actress as she grapples the idea of time passing and celeb-dom but it's Stewart who steals the show. That cocky confidence, that one note delivery is a perfect match for the role. Their back and forth banter is extremely believable and nuanced. Assayas never makes it over-the-top: the sexual tension between the two women are subtly presented, never vulgar. And the storytelling is brimming with intelligence but never feels trickery. One of the most entertaining, engaging films I've seen by Assayas.

Clouds of Sils Maria
plays as part of NYFF on 10/8 and 10/9.

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