Maria Enders is an ageing actress whose best known role was that of Sigrid in the 20 year old play 'Maloja Snake'. The play centres on the relationship between two women - the young and manipulative Sigrid and her older boss Helena, who eventually commits suicide under Sigrid's destructive influence. Enders is now being scouted again for a revival of the production, though this time in the role of Helena. She is reluctant to take on the project, but does so with the encouragement of her trusted young assistant Valentine. Soon she meets a rising starlet named Jo-Ann Ellis who is to play the new Sigrid, but Maria finds her rude and as destructive as her forthcoming character. Soon the pressure and uncomfortable similarities to herself she sees in Jo-Ann get too much for Maria, who's already overcome with grief following her divorce and the death of a friend. Plus, she starts to feel like she could be losing Valentine, who's beginning to think there's something unhealthy about Maria's reliance on her.
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An intriguing Chinese box of a movie, this slightly too-clever drama unpicks the layers of identity that are concealed behind the image of a celebrity. It's so knowing that it can't help but find revelatory meaning here and there, and the performances are raw and fascinating. There's also spectacular scenery and some darkly swelling emotions. But the themes are pushed a bit too hard, and the plot is enigmatic and oddly unresolved.
At the centre is Maria (Juliette Binoche), a famous actress who is aware that as she ages she's entering a new phase in her career. She's headed with her personal assistant Val (Kristen Steward) to a special event in Sils-Maria, Switzerland, to honour Wilhelm, the director who made Maria a star. But Wilhelm dies just before they arrive, so the event turns into a memorial instead. At the funeral, theatre director Klaus (Lars Eidinger) approaches Maria about starring in a new version of Wilhelm's iconic play Maloja Snake, which refers to an unusual cloud formation in this Alpine region. But this time Maria would play the older woman, while rising-star Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz) takes the ingenue role that sparked Maria's career. While Jo-Ann catches headlines for her bad-girl antics, Maria asks Val to help her get a grip on the alien older character she will be playing.
The story spirals out from here with swirling angles of meaning, as the play within the film becomes entangled with the contrasting public and private lives of the celebrities. Thankfully, even though everything is very pointed, the actors deliver remarkably off-handed performances that are very easy to identify with, revealing their characters' private thoughts and insecurities. There is of course also a further meta-level to all of this, as Jo-Ann's paparazzi-baiting lifestyle echoes experiences Stewart herself has had.
Continue reading: Clouds of Sils Maria Review
This sharply well-made French drama tackles an offbeat chapter in history with real skill, although the densely populated screenplay and fragmented approach to storytelling makes it difficult to engage with. Essentially a series of relatively disconnected sequences involving young people coming of political age, it offers plenty of material for the actors to grab hold of. But making sense of the overall story is difficult.
The period in question is the early 1970s, in the wake of the student uprisings of the late-60s. Just outside Paris, art student Gilles (Metayer) joins the anarchist movement with his friends Alain and Jean-Pierre (Armand and Conzelmann), littering the streets with anti-establishment fliers and bombing buildings with graffiti. But when one stunt goes wrong, they're forced to hide out for the summer in Italy with other activists. With his girlfriend (Combes) in London, Gilles starts seeing Christine (Creton). But she leaves with another guy, forcing Gilles to re-evaluate everything about his life and his dreams for the future.
Gifted filmmaker Assayas packs the film with references to iconic books, movies and artists, as these young people develop their own sense of who they are and what kind of art they hope to create. But this adds a level of literary intensity to the film that's not easy to join in on. Instead of indulging in typically teenaged hedonism (like the Americans they meet along the way), these kids are eerily serious. They can't just enjoy music and sex: it has to mean something profound for them.
Continue reading: Something in the Air [Apres Mai] Review
Nansun Shi, Jude Law, Olivier Assayas, Robert De Niro and Uma Thurman - Johnnie To, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Nansun Shi, Martina Gusman, Robert De Niro, Linn Ullmann, Jude Law, Uma Thurman and Olivier Assayas Cannes, France - 2011 Cannes International Film Festival - Red Carpet for 'Les Beins-Aimes' and Closing Ceremony - Arrivals Sunday 22nd May 2011