Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Clouds of Sils Maria
Some films fly in the face of convention and become character studies filled with nervous tension. Instead of highlighting action and consequence, these films illustrate pathos through speech. Desire, fear and paranoia are frequent themes. Over past years at the Tropic, the offbeat films "Force Majuere", and "Locke" were some excellent examples.
And "Clouds of Sils Maria," directed by Oliver Assayas, can now be added to this singular but splendid group, for those of us that like our mysteries many sided.
Juliette Binoche is Maria Enders, an iconic actress who is losing her punch, coasting a bit on past roles. She yearns to do something unexpected and daring. Maria takes a trip to Zurich to accept an award in honor of her friend and director Wilhelm Melchior. The director tells her that he wishes to make a sequel of her early groundbreaking theatrical hit titled "Maloja Snake," made when Maria was young, with her playing the seducer now twenty years later. Suddenly, Melchior, who was terminally ill, dies of a presumed heart attack.
Maria is at a loss. She is soon approached by a young enfant terrible director, perhaps in the mode of Lars von Trier, who wants to try the sequel with Maria now in the role of the aging victim rather than the evil seductress.
Enders is shaky and uncertain but tentatively agrees, thinking that it will be a tribute to her late friend.
The amorally scandalous young actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) is set to co-star as Ender's tormentor and unrequited love.
The main pull of the film becomes Maria's anxiety poised against her own ultra-confident and jaded assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart) who jabs at Maria about her age and past accomplishments.
Each day the the two go on mountain hikes to exhausting locations where they stop and rehearse the play's key scenes. Under Valentine's judgmental gaze no amount of effort is ever quite good enough.
Maria begins to wither.
These discords are further enhanced by the landscape itself which feels saturated by an odd sort of supernaturalism that has an eerie yet passive quality.
Who or what is the primary threat in this film? Is it Maria? Valentine? Jo-Ann? The earth of Sils Maria or all of these elements. Much in the way of a novel in motion, the film merely presents segments of conversation and incident and we are left to draw our own conclusions. Events unfold without any intentional meaning or import and no one person is likely to interpret the film in the same way, very much, I imagine, like an individual life. While there are no overt trembling moments, there is more than a bit of disturbance. One imagines Maria Enders going in the direction of Carole from "Repulsion".
But rather than go the route of a mainstream thriller, "Clouds of Sils Maria" is quite unsettling enough in its illustration of one existence fraught with biting serpents that become both real and imaginary at once.
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