RELEASE DATE: 2014-08-20
RUNNING TIME: 2h04min
DIRECTOR: Olivier Assayas
At the peak of her international career, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is asked to perform in a revival of the play that made her famous twenty years ago. But back then she played the role of Sigrid, an alluring young girl who disarms and eventually drives her boss Helena to suicide. Now she is being asked to step into the other role, that of the older Helena.
She departs with her assistant (Kristen Stewart) to rehearse in Sils Maria; a remote region of the Alps. A young Hollywood starlet with a penchant for scandal (Chloë Grace Moretz) is to take on the role of Sigrid, and Maria finds herself on the other side of the mirror, face to face with an ambiguously charming woman who is, in essence, an unsettling reflection of herself.
In “Clouds of Sils Maria,” French director Olivier Assayas explores the ups and downs of celebrity culture with a complex dynamic. Juliet Binoche plays a once-great actress struggling to recapture her fame while engaging in soul-searching conversations with her young assistant (Kristen Stewart).
Eventually cast in a play opposite the hot young star of the moment played by Chloe Grace Moretz, Binoche’s character must come to terms with her evolving identity. The drama, filmed in English, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May and screens in Toronto this week ahead of dates at the New York Film Festival. IFC Films will release it early next year.
In August at the Locarno Film Festival, Assayas spoke to Indiewire about the inspiration for the story, working with Stewart and Binoche, and why he’s afraid of directing movies with bigger budgets.
Your last two films were focused on strong male characters. What was it like to switch back to a female-centric story?
I’ve always made movies centered on women, but it’s true that the last two were different — “Carlos” and “Something in the Air” were different. But otherwise, I have always preferred to have strong female characters at the center of my films. In this case, the logic of my film is slightly different, because it’s built from within in a slightly different way: it starts with Juliette. So I’m building something in a slightly different way. There’s a certain inner logic to the process. When Juliette calls me and says, “Why don’t we try to make a proper movie together?” — meaning not a movie where she’d be one of several characters in an ensemble piece, like when we did in “Summer Hours” —my reaction instantly is “Yes,” in the sense that we have history together.
I wrote “Rendez-vous”, which was directed by André Téchiné, in the mid-eighties — and that made her famous. It also kickstarted my own career. I made my first feature the year after. I knew that I’d have a different approach than Abbas Kiarostami or Hou Hsiao-hsien did, because they don’t know her… I mean, they don’t speak the language, they don’t have the background, the relationship with her. But I do, so I can approach it from a different angle. I knew from the start that I would write something for Juliette — that I’d write something based on Juliette, using the person she is, what I know of her, what I fantasize of her.
Did you feel like you could push her harder than other filmmakers?
I don’t know her well enough to be that intimate. I know her superficially. We’ve been friends, but not that close, for years. What I’m saying about this being both what I know and fantasize about her is more like this is the way I see her. What I know of her but also what I imagine of her. But also she can play it her own way — part herself, part her own irony towards her status as a famous film actress.
You’re saying the film is a dialogue between her actual self and the way people think she is.
I think so. At least I gave her that space so she could play with celebrity culture, how she sees herself as a movie star and also to have a distance from the whole paraphernalia of being a film star. I knew that I wanted to represent her as an actress who works. Juliette is an actress who needs to work, to fight with her characters, to find the emotions within herself. It’s a process. So I wanted to represent that. I knew I would deal with a dialogue between her and an assistant, who will help her rehearse the part. Because we had a history in common, I wanted to use “Rendez-vous” as a landmark. That’s where we both come from — French independent filmmaking — whereas today, both Juliette and I have struggled to get somehow out of the orbit of French independent filmmaking. So it’s also an homage to where we come from. Also, I imagined the film as a dialogue between her and myself. That’s Chloe Grace Moretz. All of a sudden, I have three central characters who are all gravitating around Juliette. I didn’t even think of it.
2014 CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
2012 SOMETHING IN THE AIR
2010 CARLOS THE JACKAL
2008 ELDORADO (Documentary)
2008 SUMMER HOURS
2007 BOARDING GAME
2007 TO EACH HIS OWN CINEMA (Short film)
2006 PARIS JE T’AIME (Short film)
2005 NOISE (Music documentary)
2000 LES DESTINÉES
1996 IRMA VEP
1997 HHH: A PORTRAIT OF HOU HSIAO-HSIEN
1994 COLD WATER
1993 A NEW LIFE
1989 WINTER’S CHILD
1991 PARIS AWAKEN
2005 UNE ADOLESCENTE DANS L’APRÈS-MAI
1999 ÉLOGE DE KENNETH ANGER
1990 CONVERSATION AVEC BERGMAN
1984 HONG KONG CINÉMA (with Charles Tesson)