Oscar Wilde once said, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life”. I’ve never really agreed with this statement because life and art feel more symbiotic to me. Without one, the other one can’t be appreciated. Clouds of Sils Maria shows us the beauty in life and art, and how they layer on top of each other to create an elevated piece of work that is both.
This was easily one of my favorite film’s at the Chicago International Film Festival. It boasted one of the strongest female-led casts that I’ve seen in a drama, recently. Juliette Binoche delivers an excellent performance as aging actress Maria Enders, who is trying to come to terms with the loss of her youthfulness, but struggling desperately to grasp on to it, even if it’s through others around her. Her contrarian nature and conflicting views make her the perfect self-foil, and helps bring to life the very real internal debate we all face as we get older. We want to keep the appearance and energy of our youth, along with the status/respect our hard work has awarded us, but we don’t want the condescension that comes from being seen as young, or the limitations associated with aging. You see this internalized struggle take center stage as Maria is forced to reconcile the loss of her youth as she agrees to revisit a play that launched her career, but this time in the role of the older woman.
Her assistant and companion Valentine (Kristen Stewart), is with Maria on this journey, helping her through the death of her mentor and preparing for her new role. Valentine is an intellectual and has her own views on the state of the industry and the caliber of the acting class, but Maria always finds a way to discredit her views as simplistic or lacking the right amount of life experience. Maria feeds into this ever-growing rift between them by envying Valentine’s youth, but also treating her condescendingly. Things become further exacerbated when Maria meets the volatile actress playing the role that made her famous, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz). Jo-Ann’s life is in all of the tabloids, and has garnered Valentine’s admiration for her uninhibited attitude towards everything. Now, the challenge for Maria overcoming the cyclical nature of life and assuming the role that has been waiting for her (and waits for all of us) for over 20 years.
Olivier Assayas writes/directs this film in his typical cerebral style. Every scene is deliberate, every action premeditated, and every visual reference requires further examination to unlock its full potential, and how it all beautifully compliments the film’s story and its characters. The story is a play within itself. Each character, whether they realize it or not, have a role in this transcendent drama. Conversations that are used as vehicles to examine and comment on multiple issues in Hollywood and the media, mainly focusing on unfair double standards for women. That elevates what could have just been a by the books story, making each female lead a different stage in life. Starting with our impetuous youth, then transitioning into our hardworking and enlightening 20’s-30’s, and finally ending in reconciling the loss of our youth and gain of out maturity.
Each actor portrays their stage with perfection. Moretz embodies the feeling of invincibility and our oblivious insensitivity we have in our youth. Stewart, in one of the few great roles she has had in the last few years, manifests our quest for knowledge and working towards our goals. Stewart showcases not only her deeper side and intellect, but also an enjoyable range that we’ve only really seen in films like Still Alice and Camp X-Ray. Binoche gives the best performance of all when her character is forced to reconcile the changing dynamic in her life and her career.
We don’t always notice the specific changes we go through, whether they’re physical, emotional, or even metaphysical. Cloud of Sils Maria takes a look at all of the past stages of Maria’s life, like ghosts coming back to haunt her on the eve of her transition. This metatheater film uses beautiful, natural scenery to parallel how natural change is, even if you try to rage against it. With inspired performances for three powerhouse females, this film shows us that no matter at what age, a great performance is timeless.
RATING: ★★★★★★★★★(9/10 stars)