EMINE – ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’: Frostbite of the psyche

‘Clouds of Sils Maria’: Frostbite of the psycheWhen Olivier Assayasandrsquos andldquoClouds of Sils Mariaandrdquo received no awards at the 2014 Cannes Film Festivalandrsquos main competition, not even for its leading actress Juliette Binoche (Julianne Moore was awarded instead for her performance in andldquoMaps to the Starsandrdquo for a very similar role), it was a sad surprise.This is one very powerful film that works on so many different layers and emotions, it is at times hard to exactly summarize or explain it with a simple sentence or theme.

Perhaps it is about the sorrow and inevitability of aging, perhaps about the selfishness and conceit of youth, perhaps about the power struggle of the dominant and the meek, but possibly it is all these things meshed into 90 minutes of cinematic brilliance.What mostly remains in oneandrsquos mind after this film is the smart, delicate, yet ferocious performances by its three female leads: Binoche, Kirsten Stewart and Chloandeuml Grace Moretz — three women who waltz through a very difficult and exasperatingly intelligent screenplay as if they were trapeze artists.

Set amidst the colossal and looming Swiss Alps (no andldquoHeidiandrdquo or andldquoSound of Musicandrdquo Alps here on the contrary, these mountains are shown to be cruel and undependable) the film begins with a serpentine sequence in a train. We meet the overworked Valentine (Stewart) handling two work mobiles as she tries to sound professional and calm, all the while trying not to get lost in her neurosis.

Her job might sound glamorous but itandrsquos not sheandrsquos the personal assistant to a famous European actress, Maria Enders (Binoche). Enders boasts all the charm and aplomb of the old continent but her casual attitude is only a cover-up for her ego and thespian self-esteem The two are traveling to Zurich so that Maria can present a lifetime achievement award to the playwright who cast her in her first role ever 20 years ago as a young ingandeacutenue, Sigrid, who emotionally manipulates an older woman, Helena The tentatively enjoyable train ride is ruined when the duo hear the news that the writer has just died.

Maria is already weighed down with frailty due to her aging. When she receives an offer from a young director to portray Helena in a modernized rendition of the play, she is at first hesitant.

Valentine believes this could be a great chance for her it is, after all, a powerful and career-defining role, and as the director tells Maria, andldquoSigrid and Helena are actually the same person Helena is not weaker than Sigrid.andrdquo Maria halfheartedly accepts the role and agrees to share the stage with a young Hollywood actress named Jo-Ann, who she thinks is a spoilt brat, though Valentine disagrees.

Maria and Valentine take refuge in the town of Sils Maria, where Maria rehearses her role with her hapless assistant, who is reading the dialogues with her And thus starts the real emotional rollercoaster While practicing her role as the seduced older woman, does Maria inevitably fall in love with Valentine? Or is she just using her? The only person in the world who canandrsquot say andldquoNoandrdquo to her? But perhaps Valentine is much stronger than one thinks — the younger woman sees through the old actressandrsquos shell and is more than aware of her manipulative ways.The dynamics between Stewart and Binoche are shown through the lens of a virtuoso director who captures every ebb and flow, every power change, every hesitancy and speck of frustration flowing between the two like the snakes in Medusaandrsquos hair (The slithering feel of this reptile is represented through a direct analogy in the film with the image of clouds moving through the mountain peaks in the region.

) Is this a struggle between the older and the younger, or between honesty and deceit?Maria might just lose her only friend in life as she loses herself in the role. But things will reach an even edgier point when she actually starts rehearsing with Jo-Ann and Klaus within an arena where money, egos and celebrity mean much more than experience and expertise.

andldquoClouds of Sils Mariaandrdquo might on the surface look like a film about the treachery of the contemporary world of entertainment overtaken by the clutches of media and fickle stardom, but it is actually a fierce tragedy bound to become a classic thanks to its exploration of human nature and its primal need for power and adoration. This one should not be missed.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman