Archetypes: Film: Review: ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ (2015)

IFC Films

IFC Films

A bit of meteorological magic – fast-moving clouds that take on the appearance of a determined snake energetically moving through the Maloja Pass in the Swiss Alps – oversees the transformations at the heart of Clouds of Sils Maria.

Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, the movie provides extensive details about this phenomenon which, from afar, looks like a puffy white train headed to its next station, an end game that parallels the professional turning points affecting the three key female characters.

Clouds of Sils Maria’s depiction of its dominant Venusian archetype, however, is as evanescent and cunning as its snake-cloud centerpiece.

At the center of the story is Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), an acclaimed actress who made her name two decades earlier in the dramatic lesbian play called “Maloja Snake,” a reference to that traveling cloud formation. Back then, as the ingenue, Maria played Sigrid, a seductive young career woman who becomes the love object of her boss, Helena who, in desperation over Sigrid’s eventual departure, kills herself. Aging is seldom kind to actresses and now, in the village of Sils Maria, Maria – against her better judgment – is rehearsing for her role in that very same play. This time, though, Maria is playing the scorned older femme Helena.

IFC Films

IFC Films

Capably and collegially looking after the actress is Maria’s young assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart). And, as Valentine does line readings with her employer, we observers are often thrown off balance when the dialog blurs the lines between the play and Maria’s and Valentine’s personal and professional ties to each other. The triad is complete with the arrival of Jo-Ann (Chloë Grace Moretz), a respected but socially defiant and entitled young actress with few boundaries, who’s been cast as Sigrid, the cause of the older character’s unraveling.

To watch Clouds of Sils Maria is to become profoundly aware of the so-called “ages of women,” as each of these three struggles, plays with or ruminates over how to incorporate Venus into this specific stage of their lives. The Elder Feminine (Maria), the Party Girl (Jo-Ann) and the Balancer of Values (Valentine’s name literally carries the notion of “values” and “heart”) all figure in.

Of course, the heaviest load is carried by Maria, who must strive to be generous and affectionate to her successors, who are now in the prime of their lives, and to surrender to the passage of time. As those clouds rumbling through the sky periodically remind us, we’re destined to shed our proverbial snakeskin to bare new life beneath, all the while remembering that, as one player says, “My character is outside of time.”

Clouds of Sils Maria is an instant classic: smart and exceptionally moving with three stunning female performances. Don’t miss it.

Archetype: Venus. The Feminine. The Elder Feminine. The Seductress. The Balancer. Surrender.

Astrology Archetype: ♀ (Venus)

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