I Hope I Die Before I Get Old
Olivier Assayas wrote Clouds of Sils Maria at the request of, and for, Juliette Binoche, who had become the star she is in his first realized feature screenplay. Suggestive of the earlier erotica but without the obsessive sex, the current two-hours-and-four-minutes turns to the past and the foreshadowing in that initial, 1985 pairing, Rendez-vous: exploitation both by and of the media and, more centrally, the thin if at all dividing line between stage or screen and life, between the role played and the actor who plays it.
The fifty-one-year-old French actress as the film’s famous actress Maria Enders is equaled if not topped by Kristen Stewart as her very personal assistant Valentine. In black-rimmed glasses and homedone tattoos, the Bella Swan of Twilight and face of Chanel and Balenciaga carried away a César at Cannes, the first American actress to do that, along with impressive notice at Toronto and the New York Film Festival and shining in Still Alice. Her factotum “Val” does just about everything for the still desirable but insecure on-the-cusp-of-too-old Maria. Playing on her real-life demographic popularity, she uses iPhone, BlackBerry, texting, Googling and social media to shield her boss from the pervasive invasive technological world and “Internet [she] despises.” She is secretary, chauffeur, drinking and partying buddy, sounding board, shrink, hiking and skinny-dipping companion, line-rehearsal partner, and weeder-out of promoters, self-seekers and celebrity journalists. She needs to protect the borderline melancholic older woman from herself while at the same time tightroping their relationship -- open to more than one interpretation -- and keeping intact her own personality and worth.
Like other of the director’s films -- including for ex-wife Maggie Cheung -- this one plumbs the world of woman like Euripidean drama. Males are sketchy, for instance once- and would-be-again lover Henryk Wald, adulterous acclaimed writer Christopher Giles, theater director Klaus Diesterweg, or a video-conferencing screen-only agent (Hanns Zischler, Johnny Flynn, Lars Eidinger, Stuart Manashil). Or they are dead at seventy-two, suddenly and recently in the Swiss snow, like Wilhelm Melchior, in whose Maloja Snake decades earlier an eighteen-year-old Maria had starred and first made her reputation.
In that stage work, she had been Sigrid, young, alluring and calculating, who in what was at least emotional and surely physical as well lesbianism, had seduced employer Helena and driven her to suicide. The actress Susan Rosenberg who played the latter was killed a year afterwards in an automobile accident, and Maria is now coaxed into a contract to play that part in a revival, opposite the Sigrid of Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz, out of her depth compared to countrywoman Stewart), a tabloid-fodder woman-child whose initial worshipful demeanor will evaporate into or simply cloaked star egomania.
Maria and Val rehearse at the Engadin mountain chalet which widow Rosa Melchior (Angela Winkler) leaves them. Not seeming to read printed script lines, the two push one another, with exchanges that are confusing until one realizes that they are the thing wherein to catch the conscience of characters within the stageplay being rehearsed, or of the actresses who in the story play them, or of the actresses who play that film actress and assistant, or of the audience, or of all of them.
It makes no difference if names mentioned are of actual flesh-and-blood people or not. Women’s depths, love emotional and physical, the past and what is “real” and what is not and whether it matters, are thrown into the mix. Reviews have been near unanimous in praise of the film. However, style, ambition and even title cloud the confusion at its heart. Pompous philosophy, e.g., Nietzschean “myth of Eternal truth, ‘[of] coming together of a world of becoming with a world of being,’” and Alpine meteorological oddities are empty. Occasional Yorick Le Saux outdoor visuals are impressive. But what may or may not be hetero- or homosexual relationships are left hanging, as are an intriguing though improbable disappearance, an opening divorce and a hotel room number written on a scrap of paper. The director’s idol Ingmar Bergman did brooding better, whereas here there is less than meets the ear.
(Released by IFC Films and rated "R" for language and brief graphic nudity.)