The first real professional success for famed French actress Maria Enders was twenty years ago as the co-lead in writer Wilhelm Melchoir's play and subsequent movie "Maloja Snake", he who picked Maria, then an unknown, personally. She played Sigrid, an opportunistic eighteen year old in an emotionally dependent lesbian relationship with forty year old Helena, who was at a vulnerable stage of her life. Maria has turned down the play's upcoming London revival in which she would now play Helena, it remounted by director Klaus Diesterweg. Her reasons for turning down the role are many including: being at a vulnerable stage of her own life going through a painful divorce; remembering the suicide of Susan Rosenberg, the original Helena, following the original run of the play, the suicide purportedly mirroring what happens to Helena; and the painful memories of the production in still having hard feelings toward who was her older male costar, Henryk Wald, with who she had an affair at the ...Written by
Strong, provocative, intelligent work of art (not for everyone)
If you are a big fan of Magritte and Escher, of the writer Sebald, of Pirandello and Philip Glass and maybe the film "Koyaanisqatsi", I predict that you will love this film. If, on the other hand, you can't see the point of any of these and believe only in Aristotle's six elements of drama, there are many other excellent films you will like much better. It's a matter of taste.
In this film, writer/director Assayas deliberately blurs the distinctions between a number of levels. You start with people in the business of theatre and film: Marie Enders (Binoche), an experienced and celebrated actress, and Valentine (Stewart), her young, busy, competent personal assistant, and the people in Marie's past, living and dead.
Then there is the level of the characters in the play "The Maloja Snake" of twenty years ago, when Marie played the young and cruel Sigrid who loved and crushed her middle-aged employer, Helena. There is the level of the characters of the same play today, in which director Klaus Diesterweg (Lars Eidinger) hopes to recruit Marie to play Helena, possibly with a different take on the characters' motives and psychology, and in which Jo-Ann Ellis (Moritz) is eventually cast as Sigrid.
And there is also the level of the real human world, including events in the life of the real Kristen Stewart, which have striking parallels in the life of the fictional Ellis; the same seems to be true of Binoche and Enders, and I have read that "The Maloja Snake" is a parallel world version of Fassbinder's "The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant".
Spanning all these levels are the the real Switzerland and its real mountains and clouds, including the real Maloja Snake, a cloud phenomenon which was the subject of a black-and-white short film in the 1920's which is excerpted in Assayas' film and which can be seen on YouTube. The Internet spans all these levels too, and all the characters in the film are busy with texting and Skyping and Googling and checking out and fixing their IMDb info.
And then the work of playing characters, of determining and managing emotions, of arguing about what really motivates real or fictional or play-within-a-play fictional characters, either within the industry of the creative arts or not, also bridges the levels. We are constantly aware of the analogies and reflections among Valentine - Maria, Sigrid - Helena, Jo-Ann - Maria, and so on. Readings of lines take place, in which you sometimes wonder what level you are on, and we see a lot of the details of the creative discussions which must go into the production of plays or for that matter, not incidentally, movies such as "Clouds of Sils Maria". If you get lazy and suspend your disbelief and allow yourself to mentally presume that "Clouds" is a comprehensible narrative of the real world, Assayas will bring you up short without any ceremony.
So, does that kind of thing strike you as artistically intriguing or intellectually exciting? If it does, see the movie. It will give you a lot to think about and appreciate and puzzle about and discuss afterward. (The Swiss tourist board will thank you also.) If it seems a bit dry and abstract, well, you are fairly warned.
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