You can’t get
much more meta than Olivier Assayas’ “Clouds of Sils Maria.” The
film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this spring and screened at the New
York Film Festival this week. At a press conference yesterday, the film’s
stars, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart, plus Assayas himself, spoke of the
irony-infested film and how the actresses were practically playing themselves.
In the film,
Binoche plays Maria Enders, an actress who became famous 20 years prior by
starring in a play called “Maloja Snake,” which revolves around the
relationship between a young ingénue and a much older woman. Now many years
later, Enders is being encouraged to take on the role of a the older woman, an
offer that has her reeling over the emotional baggage of the part, in addition
to the idea of growing older in an industry that favors the young.
Maria’s personal assistant Valentine, who helps her rehearse for the play.
Chloe Grace Moretz plays Jo-Ann Ellis, the young actress taking on Maria’s
original role whose fame was the result of many a Hollywood superhero
blockbuster, much like Moretz’s own breakout vehicle “Kick Ass.” Jo-Ann might be described as your traditional troubled starlet,
one whose exploits frequently end up on sites like TMZ. When the part was
originally offered to Stewart, she felt that it was a little too close to home.
something that I knew so well,” Stewart said, “that it wasn’t something that I was
interested in living. I wanted to play something that I observed but had not
The role of
Valentine instead offered her somewhat of a chance to play the role of a person
whom she’s no doubt encountered in her life. Hollywood personal assistants often write tell-all books about the lives of their bosses, and Valentine had
her own mild obsession with celebrity culture and Hollywood gossip.
to make sure I wasn’t like brimming with hysterical laughter when I said some
of the lines that I said in the movie because I think that my position, the
life that I’m living just sort of gave it this irony and just made it a bit
more relevant and interesting,” she said.
had played Moretz’s part, Assayas said, it would have been a completely different
you told me you preferred the part of Valentine,” he said addressing Stewart,
“I completely understood what you were saying, and I understood you were
But Assayas was always sure about Binoche.
started with the idea that I wanted to use Juliette in a film as
Juliette,” he said. “That’s how that narrative took shape. I
realized when I was writing that the work of an actress is not so much about
the superficiality or the technique of acting. It’s about absorbing humanity. It’s a way of showing how the day to
day work of an actress is beautiful.”
the film, as Valentine and Maria rehearse for the play, the dialogue seamlessly morphs
into a reflection of their own relationship. The play becomes the story, and
the actresses become the roles that they are reading.The film’s dynamic of a play within a film, of actresses playing actresses, creates an incredibly meta piece that offers insight into different layers of the characters as well as the actresses.
“I almost played three characters in the movie,” Binoche said. “The actress at the
beginning, then the working time, and then in the end it comes up to the
character she’s playing. The challenges [were] showing the difficulty of what it takes to act. There’s a
sort of subjugation of yourself as an actor. Putting yourself into layers of emotions
that you don’t always want to go through because they are tough ones.”
realized while we were making the film,” Assayas added, “was that how much Kristen, Juliette and
Chloe gave of themselves in the film. Not in the sense of your work but of your
own identity. It’s a movie where you never forget you are watching those
actresses. The fact that you know those actresses are playing those parts is
what the film is about. The complexity comes from that. It’s about watching
both the actress and the part.”