Clouds of Sils Maria (Oliver Assayas, 2014) 

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in a scene from Oliver Assayas'  Clouds of Sils Maria  {Photo: IFC FILMS}

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in a scene from Oliver Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria {Photo: IFC FILMS}

Clouds of Sils Maria screens on Thursday, October 16 and Saturday, October 18. More information can be found at the Chicago International Film Festival's website here. This is a capsule review. A full review will be published upon the film's United States theatrical release. 

We have films that we admire. Upon returning to them, we lose sight of that admiration. Did the film betray us? Of course not, despite what we may tell ourselves. It’s us who have changed. I know that I certainly don’t hold films of my youth in the same high regard that I once did, at least not since entering adulthood. Our collective experiences and non-experiences shape the way we interpret any given text. So fundamentally, age plays an integral part in that. Time goes by and we (hopefully) process a series of new experiences that (again, hopefully) broaden our worldview and make us just a little more enlightened. Because if not, then what’s the point?                               

That’s a jumping off point to consider when viewing Oliver Assayas’ gorgeous, wispy, and gloriously strange Clouds of Sils Maria. It is a film about three women in different stages of their life who, among their musings and social lobbying, must interpret a text for the stage. But what Assayas succeeds in conveying is not entirely dissimilar to what Abbas Kiarostami accomplishes in Certified Copy. This is to say, Clouds of Sils Maria is layered in meaning and interpretation that treats it material as an object that changes shape depending on where you are standing.

The persistent theme of Clouds of Sils Maria, or one of its many prevailing aspects, is the manner in which we approach and digest a text. The discussions that hold court in the film are about how age changes perspective and how our failure to acknowledge that only narrows our worldview. Like John Cassavetes’ Opening Night, this is a film that is overtly about acting and seeking catharsis, but more broadly, it is a film about life and that never ending search for meaning. We must be prepared to uncover truths about ourselves that we may not like. At one point or another, we uncover our own frailty and must come to grips with it. If we can’t accept that, then perhaps truth was never within reach in the first place.