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Clouds of Sils Maria DVD Review

Clouds of Sils Maria (2015) movie poster Clouds of Sils Maria

US Theatrical Release: April 10, 2015 / Running Time: 124 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Olivier Assayas

Cast: Juliette Binoche (Maria Enders), Kristen Stewart (Valentine), Chloë Grace Moretz (Jo-Ann Ellis), Lars Eidinger (Klaus Diesterweg), Johnny Flynn (Christopher Giles), Angela Winkler (Rosa Melchior), Hanns Zischler (Henryk Wald), Nora von Waldstätten (Actress in Sci-Fi Movie), Brady Corbet (Piers Roaldson), Aljoscha Stadelmann (Urs Kobler), Claire Tran (Maria's London Assistant), Stuart Manashil (Maria's Agent), Peter Farkas (Journalist in Zürich), Ben Posener (Journalist in London), Valery Bukreev (Wilhelm Melchior), Katrin Schmidt (Dorothea Von Duisburg)

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Given its title, you expect Clouds of Sils Maria to be some foreign epic period romance. It is not. In fact, this predominantly English language film is a drama set in the world of show business. The film centers on Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), a 40-year-old stage and screen actress of considerable renown.
At the film's start, Maria is going through a messy divorce. Her valued, valiant personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) is making calls and arrangements while the two ride a train bound for Zurich, Switzerland, where Maria is to accept a prize on behalf of her friend, the legendary and reclusive Swiss playwright Wilhelm Melchior. While en route, Melchior passes away, complicating plans to go forward with the tribute.

We don't see Maria's speech or ever get to see her acting for public consumption. Written and directed by France's Olivier Assayas (probably best known by Americans for contributing to the anthology Paris je t'aime), the movie is more interested in behind-the-scenes machinations. Maria accepts a German director's offer to star in a revival of Maloja Snake, the Melchior play that got Maria discovered. This time around, she'd be filling the elder of the two lead roles, something that frightens her a bit.

"Clouds of Sils Maria" stars Juliette Binoche as Maria Enders, an accomplished actress facing middle age.

Most of our time is spent with Maria and Valentine, who is not just her employee but also her rehearsal partner and confidante. Their movie tastes diverge. Valentine thinks highly of Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), the talented but troubled young film actress who is to play the role Maria previously did. Maria cringes at the footage of Ellis' foul-mouthed arrest and other high-profile embarrassments that have turned her into a tabloid fixture. She also fails to take the 19-year-old's turn in a sci-fi space movie seriously.

It is interesting to see the film industry used for character drama rather than the usual insider satire. Assayas' view of present-day Hollywood reminds of Alejandro González Iñárritu's depictions in reigning Best Picture Oscar winner Birdman. There is cynicism towards the prevalent genre fare and lament for the real art that largely eludes even actors who are serious about their craft. Maria is serious, but she's also getting up there in years, as far as the business goes.

Repeatedly, the play she rehearses with Valentine feels like a conversation the two are having. The parts they read resemble their actual working relationship, which is very comfortable but bordering on stifling complacency. Clouds is not short on substance, giving us an accomplished actor's point of view to the industry. Maria's days are filled with press opportunities and movie offers. There is wrangling with personalities, collision of egos, and glimpses into the worlds of online gossip, IMDb misinformation, and insensitive public comments on articles. Someone dreaming of movie stardom might not give thoughts to such realities, their mind set more on the glamour of fame and fortune, red carpet premieres and awards shows. Despite her success, Maria is alone but for her paid PA and not especially happy.

Kristen Stewart limits her lip-biting in the role of Maria's personal assistant Valentine, a performance that won her the César Award for Best Supporting Actress.

This dialogue-driven movie offers kind of melancholy portrait of an actor. If not as overt as the parallels between Michael Keaton and Riggan Thomson,
there are still some obvious autobiographical elements to Binoche's character, who is younger and perhaps slightly more famous than Binoche herself. Assayas may not be a Hollywood power player, but having worked in film for nearly forty years, he knows the world he dramatizes.

First screened at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and then released in France and neighboring countries a few months later, Clouds of Sils Maria was well-received by critics and awards organizations. Stewart, who dials down her signature angst, became the first American to win Best Supporting Actress at France's César Awards. Acquired by IFC, the internationally-flavored film finally reached American theaters this spring, where it grossed a modest $1.8 million from a modest 187-venue maximum. As part of a deal struck after handling Boyhood, Paramount Home Entertainment assumes home video distribution on this indie, releasing it this week on DVD and Digital HD, but not Blu-ray.

Clouds of Sils Maria DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: July 14, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Clouds of Sils Maria sports some nice photography, including a montage of the titular phenomenon set to "Canon in D." In light of that, the lack of a Blu-ray edition is mildly troubling. Still, the DVD's 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, which fill a dual-layered disc near capacity, are up to snuff for standard definition. What little French dialogue there is gets translated by burned-in subtitles.

As this second page of the Scene Selection menu makes clear, "Clouds of Sils Maria" is full of women, talking to one another.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Nary an extra is included on the DVD, not even trailers for other Paramount-distributed movies.

The static, silent main menu simply adapts the poster/cover art.

No inserts are found within the plain gray disc's unslipcovered eco-friendly keepcase.

If this shot appears to be from another movie entirely, that is because it is taken from a sci-fi movie within the movie featuring Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A bit pretentious and chatty for some, Clouds of Sils Maria mostly engages as a thoughtful portrait of an international actress' rather mundane existence. Paramount's barebones DVD adds zero replay value to a film already short on it, making this best suited to a rental.

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Reviewed July 16, 2015.



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