The Cannes Film Festival is upon us and it officially begins tomorrow, but lots of elements from the films in competition and the sidebars are surfacing and the buzz is admittedly reaching a fever pitch. Yesterday we released our 15 Most Anticipated Films Of The 2014 Cannes Film Festival feature, and one of the films high on the list, of course, was Oliver Assayas‘ film “Clouds of Sils Maria.”
The movie features a rather terrific and starry cast. Juliette Binoche stars alongside Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz, Brady Corbet, and Johnny Flynn (who appeared alongside Anne Hathaway in “Song One“). The movie centers on Maria Enders, a star at the peak of her international career, played by Binoche, who 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 (Stewart) to rehearse in Sils Maria; a remote region of the Alps. A young Hollywood starlet with a penchant for scandal (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.
That’s definitely an intriguing concept for a film. The film will premiere towards the latter half of the festival, but Assayas’ director’s statement has already been released to give you some flavor of tone, mood and theme.
This film, which deals with the past, our relationship to our own past, and to what forms us, has a long history. One that Juliette Binoche and I implicitly share. We first met at the beginning of both our careers. Alongside André Téchiné, I had written Rendez-vous, a story filled with ghosts where, at age twenty, she had the lead role. Even then, the film looked at the Invisible and the path a young actress takes towards the attaining fulfillment in a role. Since then, our paths have run parallel, only crossing much later when we shot Summer Hours together in 2008. It was Juliette who had first had the feeling there was some missed opportunity, or rather film, that remained virtual in our shared history, and that would bring both of us back to the essential. With this same intuition in mind, I began taking notes, then breathing life into characters, and then into a story that had been waiting to exist for a long time.
Writing is a path, and this one is found at dizzying heights, of time suspended between origin and becoming. It is no surprise that it inspired in me images of mountainscapes and steep trails. There needed to be Spring light, the transparency of air, and the fogs of the past, those of the Cloud Phenomena of Maloja. A path that both brought me back to where everything started, for Juliette and myself, and where we find ourselves today, in our questions about the present, and especially the future.
Maria Enders is an actress. With her assistant, Valentine, they explore the wealth and complexity of characters created by Wilhelm Melchior – characters who still have yet to give up all their secrets, even twenty years later. But it is not so much about theatre and its illusions, nor about the meanderings of fiction, so much as it is about the Human, of the simplest and most intimate kind. In this respect, words, those written by authors, those that actors appropriate, those that spectators allow to resonate within themselves, evoke nothing other than the questions we all ask ourselves, everyday, in our own interior monologues.
Yes, of course, theatre is life. And even a little better than life, because it unveils grandeur in the best of situations and the worst, in the trivial and in our dreams. In this sense, Maria Enders is neither Juliette Binoche nor myself. She is each of us through this necessity to revisit the past – not to elucidate it, but rather to find the keys to our identity, which has made us who we are, and which continues to push us forward. She peers into the void and observes the young woman she was at age 20. At heart, she’s still the same, but the world has changed around her, and her youth has fled – youth as virginity, as discovery of the world. This does not come around twice. On the other hand, we never forget what our youth has taught us: this constant reinvention of the world, the deciphering of hypercontemporary reality and the price one must pay to be part of it.
Giving every new time the urgency and danger of a first time. It is the confrontation between the past and present of a landscape that appeared to me as an ideal setting for a comedy – or drama, depending on the perspective one chooses – of an actress diving into the abyss of time, either out of professional or moral obligation, rather than desire. When we stare into this void, it does not reflect much aside from our own image, frozen in the absolute present. This snapshot is at the heart of Sils Maria. Maria Enders discovers herself to be diffracted into a thousand avatars that resonate in the virtual world of fame – and detestation – of modern media. This is where the border between the most intimate, the most pathetically banal, and virtual public space is erased. We look for it, but cannot find it. Perhaps it simply no longer exists.
Sounds potentially complex and emotionally rich and Binoche was fantastic in Assayas’ aforementioned “Summer Hours” from 2008. Two new photos have been released as well, and a trailer is expected in the third week of May so keep an eye out. Loads of new “Clouds of Sils Maria” photos were released yesterday as well and you can see them here. And if you’re looking for real deep coverage, you could check out our Assayas retrospective from 2010.