“Times come by and she can’t accept it. Me neither, I guess,” said Maria Enders.
What to expect when Kirsten Stewart meets Chloë Grace Moretz? Vampire-chick war? Apparently not. Olivier Assayas assembles those two future talents (now I can say that) and leads them to their mentor, Juliette Binoche (The English Patient) in this riveting meta-performance about stardom and time, Sils Maria (also known as Clouds of Sils Maria), which was nominated for Balon D’Or in Cannes 2014.
To begin with, the nucleus of Sils Maria is, obviously, its femme-driven ensemble of casts. Sils Maria speaks on the behalf of women in stage performance industry of their insecurity, of their anxiety, and their aptitude; it serves as a strong homage as well as a clever satire to such industry. Surprisingly, when it was premiered in Cannes, it contends against David Cronenberg’s Maps To The Star, a tell-tale homage to women in Hollywood’s film industry. That, for me, adds more insight to both movies, as we begin to think: whether the industry to exploit acting and performance has gone too far? Contemplating.
Sils Maria centers around Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), an actress whose performance in Maloja Snake two decades ago has made her a star. Maloja Snake itself is a stage play (later is adapted into a movie) about an ambitious young girl, Sigrid—played by Maria—whose beauty haunts an older woman, Helena, and leads her to suicide.
20 years following the success of the play, Maria visits Sils Maria, Switzerland to accept an award on behalf of the playwright of Maloja Snake, who died prior to the event. There, she meets a young stage director who craves for adapting the play once again in London. Surprisingly, the director courts Maria to play the counterpart of the character that made her a star; she is offered to portray Helena, while her signature role is given to a sassy American actress, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz).
The switch of the roles has rendered Maria insecure as she begins to fear of aging and worn-off beauty. Soon, she begins to blame the stage performance industry for being incapable of producing masterpiece, instead of just some trash. With assistance of her personal assistant, Valentine (Kirsten Stewart), Maria tries to cope up with reality. Who knows that Maria’s relationship with Val adds more layer to the already piling up layers in Sils Maria? Eventually, this movie becomes a clever character study with compelling psychological approach.
Sometimes, it’s clear that the whole meta-performance is about reflecting the on-screen play into the life of our major character. The synopsis of Maloja Snake might be a good synopsis to describe Sils Maria, but director Olivier Assayas, through dialogues and situations, has put more details to the story’s motive. The details of Maria and Valentine’s relationship has already pictured up the details of the play, but the advent of Maria’s own reflection, Jo-Ann, adds more detail on how Maloja Snake has its own version in Maria’s mind.
The ideas of going in and out to the micro and macro play in this movie is very intriguing; but, it needs heart and patience to follow. It’s a femme-driven drama that can explode at anytime, just because it’s about women and their nature; but, how can you resist if the narrative is so damn beautiful and clever at the same time?
Juliette Binoche is comfortable in portraying an uneasy aging actress as if it were herself embraces the insecurities. Kirsten Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz, finally, come to a clever choice of movies with performances we rarely see from them. It’s a portrait of the industry those actresses get involved and they know the drill to stay in the industry, therefore, Sils Maria feels so real, although it has particular distance from common viewer like me.
I love how the story becomes multi-layered and multi-dimensional, just like, a piece of artwork. The shift of the story can be felt with the change of the perspective; even if it’s about a “downfall”, it’s still an engaging struggle drama. Sils Maria is a perfect choice to open Festival Sinema Prancis 2014.
Sils Maria (2014)
a.k.a Clouds of Sils Maria
Drama Written & Directed by: Olivier Assayas Starred by: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz Running Time: 124 mins