Friday, May 15, 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria

This is a very clever movie. Heartfelt as well. I should also mention honest. Very truthful, right. Also closely observed. It captures the way people talk now, the 21st century's ubiquitous demi-cyberspace of cellphones and tablets, the nuts-and-bolts of an actor's craft, the rarefied world of an A-list actor, and on top of that it's got lots of really nice Swiss scenery. But?

Well, OK.

But ...

Director/screenwriter Olivier Assayas seems to think that entertainment and selling out are the same thing. Let's be clear. Temptations to stoop to entertainment abound in this flick. But he remains pure.

The set-up is a goldmine. Back in 1995, an actress (Juliette Binoche) made a name for herself as a 20-year-old heartless temptress in a play and film adaptation. Flash-forward to 2005, and she's an aging actress. A hot director wants to cast her in a remake. Not the seductress, this time. He asks her to play the older woman that the young sociopath seduced and abandoned.

Good stuff, right? Alfred Hitchcock or Charlie Kaufman would've twisted reality to imitate art and showed the aging actress falling for her brat costar and reprising the fictional plot in real life. Could've been really entertaining, but Assayas is above such temptations.

What he gives us instead is a combo of actor's prep and subtext.

The actor's prep? Hey, you could take this movie and teach a class from it at an actor's conservatory. There's a lot of specific insight into how actors approach their characters and make 'em real. (Or not.) Binoche's character does line readings with her charismatic assistant. Every now and then, there's a frisson of ambiguity -- is this the play, or a real conversation? But there are only mere hints, subtextual winks -- and never to the point of being unsubtle, boorish or entertaining. Most of the time, it's dull actor's process stuff. "An actor prepares." Yeah, yeah. Evidently, they do that a lot. Yep. A lot of boring stuff has to happen before the entertainment begins. Good to know. Do we need two hours of granular detail? It's like a movie about a war where you never actually see the war -- just the hurry up and wait stuff as the army gets ready.

The subtext? That's Binoche's character confronting the aging process, of course. There are a couple of poignant scenes. Most of the time, Assayas sticks with hints and implications -- and never puts something so obvious as actual conflict, drama or character revelation on the screen.

This is not to say there's no drama in the movie. There is.

The plot builds up to the world-premiere of the actual play. The drama we've all been waiting for ...

And that's when the film ends.

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