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In my travels to the best film festivals in…
On Thursday, September 4, 2014 I attended the long-awaited North American Premiere of Clouds of Sils Maria at the Toronto International Film Festival. The sold-out screening was held in the elegant 2000-seat Princess of Wales Theatre. The film was a selection in the Special Presentations section.
Juliette Binoche is Maria Enders, an aging actress slash diva about to take on a revival of a play she did 20 years ago. Back then, she played a brash young assistant to an older woman in an enigmatic relationship. This time around, however, she's portraying the grande dame...the upstart is to be played by a cocky American actress (Chloë Grace Moretz). In reluctant preparation for the role, Maria enlists her trusted personal assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), to rehearse and run lines with her for the lion's share of this two hour plus epic. It's this life imitating art imitating life conundrum between Binoche and Stewart that drives the narrative, making Clouds of Sils Maria one of the best films I've seen this year.
It's challenging enough for a viewer to process the many layers of a complex plot in which an actor is playing a character who's an actor playing a character. This device, used effectively in numerous films, presents an even bigger challenge for the actor. Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis did it spectacularly well in the ballet-within-a-movie in Darren Aronofsky's Black Swan (2010). Even here at TIFF 2014, we have the legendary Al Pacino tackling this in the play-within-a-movie of The Humbling (which was the very next film I saw after Clouds of Sils Maria, and which also made my Top 10). It's a play-within-a-movie here in Clouds of Sils Maria, as well, and the players are Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and, to a lesser extent, Chloë Grace Moretz.
Filmed on location in the stunning Swiss Alps, as well as Italy and Germany in late summer-early fall 2013, Clouds of Sils Maria made its triumphant debut in competition for the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Unlike other pictures that come straight to Toronto after that, perhaps playing a couple of other fests along the way, Clouds went on to play over a dozen festivals in Europe before arriving here for its North American Premiere.
This was writer/director Olivier Assayas' fourth foray in competition at Cannes. He previously went for the Palme d'Or with Les destinées (2000), Demonlover (2002), and Clean (2004). He has over 45 movie and television credits under his belt, but picks his projects carefully with only around 20 features as a director. His last TIFF appearance was in 2012 for Something in the Air.
If there are any classic starlets left in the movie world, Juliette Binoche is one of them. Her many honors include the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in The English Patient (1996). She was nominated for Best Actress in Chocolat (2000). Binoche has close to 60 movies and television shows on her filmography, garnering over 55 awards and nominations. Some of her other notable pictures include The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Damage, Caché (Hidden), Bee Season, Paris, je t'aime, Dan in Real Life, Summer Hours, Certified Copy, Cosmopolis, Words and Pictures, and her biggest box office success to date, as Sandra Brody in 2014's Godzilla.
Binoche's partner in Clouds of Sils Maria's pas de deux is Kristen Stewart. The 24-year-old has become a household name to audiences worldwide, largely on the basis of her starring role in the five blockbuster films of The Twilight Saga, but she was on my radar long before she became Bella Swan. The prolific Stewart's resume includes 65 award wins and nominations along with over 30 films and television shows, including (from 2001-2007) The Safety of Objects, Panic Room, Cold Creek Manor, Speak, Catch That Kid, Undertow, Zathura: A Space Adventure, The Messengers, and In the Land of Women. Once I became a film festival journalist in 2006, Stewart began appearing in many of my favorites. These include Fierce People (Woodstock 2006), Into the Wild (Toronto 2007), The Cake Eaters (Fort Lauderdale 2007), Adventureland (Sundance 2009), Welcome to the Rileys and The Runaways (both Sundance 2010), On the Road (Toronto 2012), and Still Alice, another film among my TIFF 2014 faves. Clouds of Sils Maria is her ninth film to make one of my festival Top 10s.
Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux has 50 projects to his credit, including Swimming Pool (2003), I Am Love (2009), and Arbitrage (2012). He shot one of my favorites from last year's Toronto International Film Festival, Jim Jarmusch's Only Lovers Left Alive. Editor Marion Monnier cut Eden, another film on my TIFF 2014 schedule -- also produced by Clouds of Sils Maria's Charles Gillibert.
Clouds of Sils Maria was produced by Charles Gillibert for CG Cinéma. His name has been at the top of several recent TIFF favorites, including On the Road (2012), also starring Kristen Stewart. He produced two Xavier Dolan films that wowed audiences here, Laurence Anyways (also 2012) and Tom at the Farm (2013). He also produced Eden, another in my TIFF 2014 lineup. He's working with Assayas again as producer on the upcoming Idol's Eye with Robert Pattinson. 20 other production companies backed the film, as well, representing France, Germany, Switzerland, and Belgium.
For a synopsis see the festival's official page.
Star Juliette Binoche was brought onstage by writer/director Olivier Assayas to introduce the film, despite a severe bout of jet lag. Afterward, Assayas returned for an exciting and informative post-screening Q&A.
Here are some pictures I shot during the intro and Q&A:
NOTE: I selected Clouds of Sils Maria as one of my Top 10 from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival. Close to 30 separate distribution deals have been finalized for international territories. Mongrel Media is putting out the movie in Canada. IFC Films has domestic theatrical distribution.
Two trailers are below, including the official Cannes trailer and a more recent International trailer.
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In my travels to the best film festivals in…