CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA
Clouds of Sils Maria. I thought that this was pretty good. It’s a French film but spoken entirely in English [no subtitles] starring Juliette Binoche and Kirsten Stewart and has received mostly excellent reviews but no major awards: it was nominated for Best Director at Cannes a couple of years ago. It’s wordy and actressy, very much up my street and unusually for these days features wealthy, sophisticated people with the sort of problems wealthy and sophisticated people have. We see them constantly in the best hotels eating the best food and being waited on by always-available handmaidens. They are chauffeur-driven everywhere and in the case of Mlle Binoche, flattered and fawned upon by almost everyone around her although there is a strong sense that she is still respected.
Briefly, very briefly it is about a famous French actress who shot to stardom twenty-years earlier when cast in a play in which she was given the role of an alluring young girl who drives her older boss and mentor to suicide. She has now been offered the role of the older woman in a new production of the play and has to work opposite a new, American starlet playing the alluring young girl. She and her personal assistant played by Kirsten Stewart, travel to Switzerland to rehearse the lines and that is where the dramatic tension largely lies. That is why it is actressy and wordy.
Early on, we are told that Binoche has a husband and that he recently died and soon after is given a line in which she says something to the effect that she has never been even slightly tempted into a lesbian relationship. Perhaps this is to assuage audience expectations over the casting of gay icon, Kirsten Stewart. But it is there. Kind of hovering.
The screenplay proceeds of course as a mirror of the play: older woman/younger woman; one dominant and needy the other cautiously respectful but increasingly irritated by the other woman’s self-absorption. It all becomes extremely intense and when late in the film in a terrific mise en scene [I’ve been re-reading McKee recently!] Binoch meets with the American starlet in London, all of Stewart’s submerged emotions are revealed.
Much is made in the reviews of how great the lead performances are and if acting is interesting to you, then yes there are two amazing performances going on on screen but I don’t care that much. I recognise bad acting when I see it but great acting can’t turn a sow’s ear into a silk film.
It’s something different; worth a look but as usual with French cinema you only get out of it what you put into it.
Fortunately, this is a silk film.
Ilo Ilo. Another super film. Just loved it.
This is set in Singapore. I went there once; can’t remember when, late nineties, I think. I went on business, long story, but yet another Police State. Like Iran. Like Amerika, in my opinion. Seems superficially normal, people like us then you say something or see something and you suddenly realise that you don’t know the coded rules that everyone around you knows by heart.
Rural Northumberland, it ain’t.
I digress. This is about a working Singaporean family: Dad, Mum, brat of a child that they can’t control who live in a modern apartment block together. The film opens just after the death of the grandfather, the Dad’s father who up until then had been the live-in child minder for the boy. With both parents working and the wife pregnant, they need help and take on a Filipino maid to both care for the child and carry out domestic tasks. This alters the dynamic of the family.
At first they treat the maid as little more than a slave forcing her to cook and clean until midnight. The maid has a twelve-month old baby back in the Philippines so she has little choice but to accept the terms on offer. The boy is horrible to her and the parents never rebuke him.
But things change and as the narrative develops the maid and the boy form a kind of alliance as she increasingly takes over the role of the stressed-out mother and the boy becomes her substitute child. As for the father, well he is stressed out too. We see a short scene of him at work, trying to sell unbreakable glass to a client . . . which duly breaks. Then he resigns but cant get another job and loses money by gambling, in an attempt to maintain their standard of living and retain the services of the maid.
And that is more or less it. A man cannot serve two masters. It’s just a One-act structure with only four characters but the Emotional arc is so beautifully realised that one is drawn in completely.
Filmed almost entirely on hand-held cameras with probably no scene lasting more than 60-seconds it turns out that it is a directorial debut. The woman who plays the mother won Best-supporting actress at Cannes in 2015.
Not my favourite Director . . . but who is these days? He’s an auteur which I think means doing everything yourself; writing the script, directing, editing and relying largely on a repertory cast of regulars to populate the film. And work with not against, the tantrums.
As usual, there are obligatory scenes of graphic sex at the beginning. In a way, I don’t mind: people have sex. But does it move he plot along? Maybe, maybe. The scenes on the fishing boat seem fairly gratuitous to me but given that the guy is cheating on her at the time I suppose they show her bonding [in no uncertain way] with a charlatan. And yet . . . this is Almodovar’s USP . . . he doesn’t need a reason to show gratuitous sex; if you don’t want to watch, don’t go.
I haven’t read, at least I don’t think I have, the original Alice Munro short story collection upon which it is based but I’ll lay any odds there is zero gratuitous sex in the book.
What’s it about? A Mum in Madrid whose only daughter goes on a summer break to a mountain retreat, then is so indoctrinated that she never returns home. She completely disappears in fact and breaks her mother’s heart. Eventually, after twelve years of no contact she finds her living in Switzerland but we only discover this in the dying moments of the film. We don’t see any reconciliation or emotional meeting. There is too much sex to be gotten through to be bothered about a resolution.
The film contains two of my pet hates in TV/Cinema: in one scene, she turns on the television and just at that moment . . . the very second she turns the thing on she hears an announcement that is incredibly important to her. Yeah, yeah she would have got there eventually but it is lazy lazy writing. And the other thing: the whole plot is set in motion by an unbelievable coincidence. She bumps in to an old acquaintance who is only in Madrid [pop 3.1 million] for one day. Robert McKee in Story talks a fair bit about coincidence. He will allow it say in the case of the television if it shortcuts the narrative and doesn’t become a deux a machina. But he would definitely not permit a plot-turning incident like bumping in to someone by pure chance in a city of over three-million people.
It’s not bad, it’s not bad. I am making it sound worse than it is. He is reflecting Spanish society as he sees it; in the present, with phones, with the Internet and the daily struggles we all have. All of which is refreshing and if it takes Alice Munro’s short stories to make a decent basis for a plot, then I’m fine with that.