Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014): France, Switzerland, and Germany

Reviewed by Anissa Perez. Viewed at the AFI Fest in Hollywood.

From writer and directer Olivier Assayas comes a beautifully original story about friendship, growth and self-discovery. The main leads are Valentine played by Kristen Stewart and Maria Enders played by Juliette Binoche. Both actresses have amazing chemistry together and makes their relationship as actress and assistant very believable. The director chose to shoot many scene’s in devastatingly  beautiful and expansive landscapes to reflect the character’s emotional struggles or shortcomings. Assayas does a fantastic job of asserting himself as a director and making his film different from others. He integrates nature and plot line so seamlessly that it feels natural to make the connections between mise-en-scene and key points in the film.   The film starts with a flustered Valentine trying to make sense of the many job offers her boss is receiving. Her boss is none other than world renown actress Maria Enders. Maria is most known from her part as Sigrid in the play Maloja Snake 20 years prior. The play chronicled the life of an older business woman; Helena, who becomes infatuated with Sigrid, the young and beautiful new intern. Through her charms Sigrid eventually leads her boss to suicide. Flash forward to present day and Maria recieves news that the director of Molaja Snake; Wilhelm Melchiore has died as she is en route to deliver an award to him for a life work. Seeing that Maria is devestated, Valentine conjurs up a meeting with a new and talented director who is casting for his take on Maloja Snake. He plans on clasting Maria as sigrid’s victim; Helena. Maria denies the offer at first believing that she will always be Sigrid but due to Valentine’s convincing ways Maria obliges. As Maria and Valentine escape to the countryside for Maria to study her new role, changes begin to occur between Valentine and Maria. Their relationship begins to mirror that of Sigrid and Helena. As Maria begins to reherse lines with Valentine it becomes harder and harder to distinguish between the play and their actual words. As the parallels between Helena and Maria grow Valentine notices. It is then that the audience sees that Sigrid and Helena’s relationship was born toxicity and ended in selfishness where as Valentine and Maria’s relationship was born from frienship and ended in selflessness. All the while Maria feels her original role of Sigrid has been passed to an ungrateful American starlette who is known for having her brushes with the law being splashed worldwide. Everything from acting, set design and location to directing is on point and  furthers the theme of change and evolution. The snake for me meant the evolution of Maria. As soon as she saw it, everything changed. Also other characters other than Maria change as well. The snake changes the landscape so then it disappears. For me i feel that Valentine was the snake. She changed Maria then she dissapeared. This drama full of sprawling landscapes, intriguing characters and  a well developed story-line makes this film a top contender for the AFI festival.

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