2014; written and directed by Olivier Assayas; 124 mins
Always end of an anti-climax, that’s what I have never said. Clouds of Sils Maria follows the story of world-renowned actress, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), who – in the wake of her playright-mentor’s death – reluctantly takes on the role of the older woman in a remake of the play that made her career back in the day as the younger engenue in a tumultuous lesbian office romance. She retreats to Sils Maria with her personal assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), to rehearse the play. What comes out of it is a frustrated, emotional couple of weeks as Maria tries to come to terms with being an actress having to deal with aging and the limited time left available to her. I have only seen one other film by Olivier Assayas – 2010’s Carlos – and I fucking love that movie! I remember sitting down to watch it, assuming I would possibly get through (tops) the first two parts of this five and a half hour epic and as it turned out, I watched the whole fucking thing all the way through from start to finish. And I’ll be honest, I had wanky film student hat on when I saw it was as long as it was. Like when I heard that Hunger was a near silent, semi-experimental film about Bobby Sands with an unbroken seventeen minute static shot in the middle. I was thinking; “I’m going to watch this and appreciate in a way that so many people I know won’t – bless them!” It’s one of my favourite films of this decade alonside Only God Forgives, Kill List, Tabloid and others. Assayas is clearly a fantastic director of actors, his grasp of narrative and the subtext within his films never wavers and follows through, so showing his past as a critic being very aware of the narrative undercurrents. BUT! … I don’t care about these characters because they’re minted! It’s a personal, political thing that I cannot seem to get past and you can see that as a fault but there it is. Oh, because it’s not coal mining! No… that is correct. It isn’t. That is why I get a lot more out of watching the coal mining protagonists in Ken Loach’s ‘The Price of Coal’. There is just something about watching a millionaire actress in big hotels with servants and just having a bit of a snub by being asked to play an older woman. Bugger! Whoever will she turn to? Certainly won’t get any solace from all the staff and servants who I couldn’t help but notice she was very offhand with. I admit, there is a whole swathe of cinema that I try to avoid because I can make a fairly educated guess that I will have little to no sympathy with the lead characters. Then again – if the issues of the rich protagonists are wrapped up in a genre plot which involves death for them at the hands of nefarious forces then I will happily sympathise with these people because, being the benevolent devil that I am, I think that unnecessary death trumps classist principles. But a respected, successful actress whinging about feeling a bit old and we’re supposed to pity her inner torment? Come on! So, the performances are great; Juliette Binoche is really passionate and gives her all. She is to acting what Wales is to Rugby in that sense, she always gives us a great show. Kristen Stewart is down to Earth and really is the heart of the film. Maria Enders is a character who is to alof for us to hold onto, Valentine is more pragmatic and relatable and doing her job whilst trying to deal with this petulant movie star. It’s too long but beautifully shot and the footage of the cloud formations around Sils Maria is stunning… but I just didn’t care. Sorry.