Clouds of Sils Maria: Criterion Collection
June 29, 2016
In international cinema, Juliette Binoche is acting royalty. The veteran actress has worked with the likes of Jean-Luc Godard, Philip Kaufman, Anthony Minghella, and Krzysztof Kieslowski among others. She is a brave actress with an incredible range, which is evident in her diverse filmography. In this respect, Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) is a cinematic love letter to Binoche by French filmmaker Olivier Assayas.
Binoche plays Maria Enders, a well-known international actress who leads a busy life that is managed by her personal assistant Valentine (Stewart). The younger woman handles various aspects of her life including organizing her public appearances and removing false information on the Internet Movie Database. She is a sounding board, listening to a speech Maria is going to give in Zurich for an elderly Swiss playwright accepting an award and who gave her the big break in her career when she was starting out.
En route, Maria learns of his death and accepts the award on his behalf. At the ceremony, she is approached by a popular young playwright to appear in a production of Maloja Snake, the play that helped establish her career. She agrees and prepares for the role at the playwright’s home at Sils Maria. The rest of the film plays out Maria sorting out her feelings about the playwright’s death and her complex relationship with Valentine.
Juliette Binoche delivers another wonderfully layered performance, portraying an actress during a particularly turbulent period of her life. She conveys a vulnerability that is touching and devoid of sappy sentimentality. There’s an authenticity to how she carries herself and one can’t help but feel that she relied on some of her own experiences as an actress.
Since appearing in the popular Twilight movies, Kristen Stewart has picked more offbeat and European fare, like On the Road (2012) and Still Alice (2014). Clouds of Sils Maria continues this trend as she sheds her trademark affectations for a low-key performance. She doesn’t try to upstage Binoche – that’s not the purpose of her character – but support her, showing the contrast between Valentine’s generation and Maria’s, both within the context of the film and outside of it.
Once Maria and Valentine take refuge in Sils Maria, the film really takes off as we get all kinds of fantastic scenes between Binoche and Stewart. There’s a loose, familiarity between them and they are completely believable as long-term co-workers and friends by the kind of short-hand they have and the ease between them. Thankfully, Assayas downplays the meta nature of the film by presenting the story and its characters matter-of-factly. Clouds of Sils Maria is anchored by stellar performances by Binoche and Stewart and takes a fascinating look at the relationship between their characters.
There is an excellent 2K transfer that really shows off the impressive mountainous environment of Sils Maria.
“Beyond Time” is an interview with director Olivier Assayas. He talks about the origins of the film – it came from an idea that Binoche presented to him. He also delves into the look of the film and the relationship between Maria and Valentine.
“Parallel Lives” features interviews with Binoche and Stewart who talk about their respective characters and how much they informed their actual lives.
“Cloud Phenomena of Maloja” is Arnold Fanck’s 1924 silent short film that was shown in excerpts in the film.
Also included is the trailer.