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Featured DVD Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

August 25th, 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria - Buy from Amazon: DVD
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Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria is a French co-production that earned a lot of praise in its native market. Not only was it nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but it earned six César Award nominations, including a win for Kristen Stewart for Best Supporting Actress. She became the first American actress to win a César. Unfortunately, despite this praise, the movie never caught on here in theaters earning just under $2 million in limited release. Granted, that's better than a lot of films manage, but still disappointing compared to the critical praise. Did it deserve better? Or was the film geared towards critics and won't appeal to the average moviegoer?

The Movie

We first meet Valentine, who is the personal assistant to Maria Enders. She's trying to arrange Maria's schedule with various people in various cities around the world, including Maria's soon-to-be ex-husband's divorce attorney. She's having problems, because they are on a train in the Alps, which is not exactly a quiet place to have a phone conversation, plus the tunnels are causing a lot of havoc with the reception. Maria is traveling to an Awards ceremony to collect an award to be given to Wilhelm Melchior. Wilhelm refuses to do public even like this, because he feels they interfere with his writing process. Maria is accepting the award on his behalf, because when she was an unknown 18-year old actress, Wilhelm gave her her first big break casting her as the lead in his play, Maloja Snake. Maria was cast as Sigrid, an 18-year old who got into a relationship with an older woman, Helena, and used that relationship to get what she wanted, discarding Helena when she did. This drove Helena to suicide. When play was adapted into a movie, Maria reprised her role in the movie and that helped her become the star she is today.

While on the train to Munich, they receive terrible news. Wilhelm Melchior died. The original plans are scrapped and the award is turned into a memorial. Maria Enders is obviously shocked by Wilhelm's death and considers skipping the memorial. However, she decides to press through, even though things start to get more complicated. One of the complications is Hanns Zischler, an actor who had worked with Wilhelm extensively. He has also worked with Maria a couple of times and their relationship was contentious, to say the least. If Maria decides not to go through with the ceremony, Hanns will take her place. Maria gets a call from Rosa, Wilhelm's widow. She tells Maria to go on and accept the award. That's what Wilhelm would have wanted. She also tells Maria that Wilhelm's death was suicide. He was terminally ill and had known for a while.

After the memorial, Maria meets with Klaus Diesterweg a stage director. He wants to restage Maloja Snake, but with Maria playing Helena, while a young American actress, Jo-Ann Ellis, would play Sigrid. At first, Maria refuses to, because she thinks she's too much like Sigrid and not at all like Helena. Klaus convinces her that the two characters have more in common than she thinks. She's still unsure, as her divorce is leaving her in a vulnerable place and she's worried that playing Helena will hurt her more. Ironically, it is a conversation with Hanns that convinces her to take the role. She finds his reading of Helena and Sigrid to be simplistic and insulting, so she accepts the part to show him he's wrong.

Maria and Valentine travel to a remote house where Wilhelm and Rosa lived. Rosa can't stay there anymore; there are too many memories. She wants Maria to be there while Maria works on her character. While there, Maria and Valentine talk about various subjects, including Maria's crush on Wilhelm, as well as Jo-Ann's tabloid troubles. Maria, who dislikes the internet and despises tabloids, had no idea Jo-Ann had these troubles, so she decides to do some research and becomes a little worried as a result. They do see Jo-Ann's big summer blockbuster and discuss it, which is a fun scene. The plot doesn't really move forward here and when it does, we really hit spoilers.

I can see why critics liked Clouds of Sils Maria more than the average moviegoer. There's not much of a plot that happens throughout the movie, which means the pacing is deliberate. Additionally, a lot of the resolutions are ambiguous. Those are issues that tend to turn off moviegoers, at least those who don't check out art house films regularly. On the positive side, if you want to watch a movie that is filled with scene after scene of great acting, this is a must see. Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and to a lesser extent Chloë Grace Moretz all give amazing performances. (That's not to say Chloë Grace Moretz isn't great in the movie, it's just that compared to the other two, she's barely in the movie.) This is truly a movie made to show off acting talent and these three women have lots of that.

On a side note, Kristen Stewart has always been a good actress. Go watch Panic Room for proof of that she's been a great actress a long time. She has also been amazing in Into the Wild, Camp X-Ray, etc. Unfortunately, her reputation might be set in the eyes of a lot of people, because her biggest movies are Twilight and Snow White and the Huntsman, which are not films that gave her the opportunity to show off her acting skills. No one could turn Bella Swan into an interesting character. Not unless they rewrote the script beforehand.

The Extras

There are no extras on the DVD.

The Verdict

Clouds of Sils Maria has plenty of great acting, so it is absolutely worth checking out. On the other hand, the DVD has no extras, which is disappointing. I think the replay value of the movie makes it worth buying, over just renting, but with no extras, I can't be enthusiastic with that recommendation.

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Filed under: Video Review, Camp X-Ray, Clouds of Sils Maria, Twilight, Juliette Binoche, Chloë Grace Moretz, Kristen Stewart, Hanns Zischler, Lars Eidinger, Angela Winkler