Olivier Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria: A captivating melancholy drama.
Olivier Assayas’s film-making journey has been a long and fruitful one. The 60 year old film director, screenwriter and film critic started his career by ghostwriting episodes for TV shows that his ailing father had been working on. In 1986, he captured the public’s attention when he directed several short films and worked as a writer for the prestigious Cahiers du cinéma film magazine.
Then followed several films and TV series documentaries but it was not until 1996 when he wrote and directed “Irma Vep”; that Assayas truly made an impact in the International film-making fraternity. The film is considered by many enthusiasts as his biggest hit yet.
He was among the first European film makers and critics to acknowledge and appreciate Asian cinema.
The twice married filmmaker wrote and directed “Clouds of Sils Maria” in 2014 which took home the prestigious Louis Delluc Prize and amassed six different César Award nominations.
The film which earned American actress Kristen Stewart a César Award for Best Supporting Actress was also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival.
It follows the life of Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), a celebrated movie star who travels with her loyal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to Zurich to accept an award on behalf of Wilhelm Melchior – an elderly Swiss playwright – whom she attributes her success to. In a sudden twist of things she learns of Wilhelm Melchior’s sudden death which his widow Rosa Melchior (Angela Winkler) claims to be suicide.
Klaus Diesterweg (Lars Eidinger) a famous theatre director subsequently offers her a role in ‘Maloja Snake’ – a play she had made her debut on twenty years before thanks to Wilhelm – and she reluctantly agrees. Rosa decides that she needs to get away for a while and Maria agrees to stay in the Melchiors’ house in Sils Maria as she prepares for her new role.
An attractive American actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) is cast to play what used to be Maria’s role in Maloja Snake but things are complicated because of Jo-Ann’s scandalous life which to some extent mirrors her character in ‘Maloja Snake‘.
Maria and Valentine spend most of their days hiking in the Alps while discussing some of the issues affecting them and the society at large. On one such hike, Valentine disappears.
The plot comes to an end several weeks later on the opening night of ‘Maloja Snake’ in London where Maria rejects an offer five minutes before curtain rises on the play.
It brings out the conflict between aging and time and depicts the problems that arise from cultural disparity and no one would have captured them better than Olivier Assayas. Although some issues and events are left unexplained and a couple of elements in the plot are wanting, this may be the film that may adequately counter “Irma Vep“.