Clouds of Sils Maria | Kilburnlad | Film | Reviews


Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria

This film was advertised in one of my regular email notifications from the BBC. When I saw that it starred Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart it piqued my interest. So we launched iPlayer and settled down to watch the story unfold. Both of us were a bit tired, and this is not a film to watch unless you are prepared to give it undivided attention. In fact, it's probably one of those films that deserves at least two viewings. I must admit that at times I found myself lost.

Binoche plays Maria Enders, an international film star and stage actress. She is known for playing the part of Sigrid in both the film and stage versions of Maloja Snake, by the Swiss playwright Wilhelm Melchior. But this was twenty years earlier, and we now meet her travelling on a train with her young assistant, Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart. They are on the way to Zurich to accept an award on behalf of the now elderly Melchior, after which they plan to visit him in his remote Swiss alpine home in Sils Maria. I found the dialogue sometimes difficult to catch as Maria and Valentine spoke on the train, there being a lot of 'train' noise to contend with. At least when Maria took phone calls in French we had sub-titles! During the train journey they learn of Melchior's death.

At the award ceremony Maria is approached by Klaus Diesterweg, a theatre director, who wants her once again to perform in the Maloja Snake, but this time as Helena, the older partner in a tempestuous relationship with Sigrid, which forms the basis of the play/film. But playing Sigrid had meant so much to Maria that she can't contemplate playing Helena, particularly as Sigrid is to be played by a very confident young American actress, 19-year-old Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz). But Maria finally agrees and, after Melchior's widow offers her the use of their house, Maria and Valentine spend their time between rehearsing the play and walking in the mountains.

The 'rehearsals' are perhaps the most fascinating part of this film. It is not at all clear at times whether the two of them are rehearsing the play or playing out their own relationship. Perhaps the relationship between Maria and Valentine isn't all that different to that of Helena and Sigrid. Both Binoche and Stewart are superb, and at least one critic has said that Binoche delivers a career best performance. It did, however, leave me a bit confused, but perhaps that was the director's intention. Even more surprising was what happens when Maria and Valentine hike up the mountain early one morning to catch sight of the Maloja Snake, a cloud formation that passes through the mountains under certain climatic conditions. Again, there are similarities to the plot of the play.

There is then a rather abrupt jump forward to the opening night of the play, and we see Maria suggest to Jo-Anne that she should perhaps play one scene slightly differently, emulating what Maria herself had done all those years earlier. But Jo-Anne was having none of it, and I think that's when Maria finally had to let go of her 'Sigrid' and give way to the younger actor.

This is a complex film, but the quality of the acting makes it well worth the effort.

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