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Laramie Movie Scope:
Clouds of Sils Maria

A very clever tale of the clash of generations

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 10, 2015 -- This story about clashes between an older person and younger people she works with is told as a play within a movie, and sometimes as a movie within a movie. There are several layers at work in this sophisticated screenplay by writer-director Olivier Assayas (“Paris, je t'aime”). There isn't much passion in it, and it isn't very compelling, but it is an extremely cleverly written story.

Most of the action revolves around two characters, an aging European actress, Maria Enders (played by Juliette Binoche, whose own acting career is not unlike that of this character) and her personal assistant, Valentine (played by Kristen Stewart of the “Twilight” movies).

The complex plot follows these two as they negotiate a funeral of a mentor, confrontations with an old enemy, career decisions, and lots of discussions about the meanings of plays and movies. Maria and Valentine also work on an upcoming play. Valentine reads lines with Maria. The two debate the meaning of the play and the psychological makeup of the characters.

As the two read their lines, it becomes obvious that these characters in the movie are very similar to the characters in the play. The lines they recite and read have extra depth and double meanings. This leads one to wonder how close the characters in the movie, or the play, are to the real actors, Binoche and Stewart. This is what makes the screenplay so sophisticated, how the plays within the movie help reveal more about the movie characters.

This movie has a lot of naval-gazing about the movie business. It examines the venality and narcissism of writers, directors, actors, business agents and the news media (including the notorious Paparazzi). At one point in the movie a woman is so distraught by an extramarital affair, she ends up near death in a hospital, while the young actress who helped break up her marriage blithely works on her next project as if she could care less. These are not good people.

Maria and Valentine talk a lot about what they believe in, but by the end of the film, you wonder if they believe in anything at all, other than self-promotion. At one point in the movie, Valentine suddenly disappears from the movie and is not seen, or even referred to, for the remainder of the film. There are hints in the movie about this, but I will not reveal my theory about the disappearance in this part of the review. I will reveal it in the spoiler section below, for those who want to know.

This is an interesting movie about sophisticated, but morally shallow people, with a very clever plot and some fine performances. Binoche, of course, is a very talented actress, so her performance is no surprise, but Stewart's performance was a surprise to me because of the one-dimensional, sullen, moping character she played in the Twilight films. It turns out that if you give her a meaty character and a good script, she can do the job very well. Chloë Grace Moretz (“Kick-Ass”) also gives a solid performance in this film as a young movie star.

The story isn't compelling, but it is very slickly made, with beautiful location shots by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux (“Swimming Pool”) and there is that snarky, clever story, too, so it rates a B.

Spoilers below

O.K. here is my theory about the strange disappearance of Valentine in the movie. She is hiking up in the mountains with Enders to see “the snake” (clouds flowing through the Swiss mountains at Sils Maria like a river) early in the morning. Suddenly, she is gone, and Enders goes looking for her, calling her name. She has just vanished from the movie.

In one of the plays discussed in the movie, one of the characters also disappears in a similar way. Enders and Valentine talk about this disappearance in the play. Enders is convinced that the character in question dies. Valentine thinks maybe she lived and started her life over. There are also hints in the movie and the plays that Valentine is thinking about quitting her job and moving far away.

So here's what happened. Valentine died, or she didn't. Maybe Valentine got fed up with Enders, and suddenly decided to quit her job and move away. Maybe she fell down the mountain and died, or was badly hurt. At any rate, she is gone, replaced by a new assistant.

Another factor which suggests Valentine's death is the fact that Enders is noticeably changed after Valentine's disappearance. She starts to act as though she agrees with Valentine on certain things that the two disagreed on before.

Enders seems to be more accepting of the views of the very young Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) an actress she ends up working with. She also accepts a role in a science fiction movie, a decision that would have been out of character for her the way she said she felt about sci-fi movies earlier in the film. So maybe Valentine died and that trauma changed Enders.

I would have preferred that the movie revealed what happened to Valentine. Sometimes a director can get a lift from critics who favor this sort of ambiguity in a film. The ambiguity did make me think about the film briefly, but I think it makes the story poorer, not richer.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2015 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)