Olivier Assayas continues his trend toward making smart, well-written, meta-narrative films laced with a trace of irony. The film is deserving of a longer review but others have done that so I will instead give a list of references in the film as well as things I saw that reminded me of other films and such.
The film deals, in part, quite literally with clouds. In this case, the famous Maloja snake that is indeed a natural wonder that can be seen in the autumn and winter winding through the Engadin Valley in Switzerland. The play within the film too is called The Maloja Snake letting us know that the natural phenomena can be both metaphor and real.
So what about clouds?
- I find the poem 'Mutability' by PS Shelley I apt. It begins.
We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed and gleam and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! yet soonNight closes round, and they are lost for ever:...
How does one deal with aging [mutability in one's own life] when one doesn't necessarily feel that much older? That is a big part of what the movie is about. So what about influences?
- All About Eve is an obvious influence although it's not as much about youth and age in the same way.
- Persona is another influence; as it is a two-hander with two women in a remote location - granted only one talks in that one while Cloud of Sils Maria has good back and forth dialogue.
- The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant is also a film about two women in one location [one room] and deals with a older woman and her roommate who she treats like a slave. It's much more caustic but the elements are there.
- The films Rendez-vous written by Assayas is connected as well. it was Binoche's first staring role. About it Assayas says:
If you've seen Rendez-vous, you know how much I am drawing from that film. I used the same theme... I think I used the overall mood of the film too. It's still a completely different animal. But it's also because the world has changed.
- Binoche's past relationship with her first director Henryk Wald has shades of Otto Preminger and Jean Seberg; He the older [bald] director who founded and nurtured the inexperienced young actress who in turn fears and hates [and possible loves] him.
- The black and white film segment that is shown is from a 1924 film titled Das Wolkenphänomen von Maloja [Cloud Phenomena of Maloja] by Arnold Fanke.
There is probably more here but taken as a whole all these elements help shape Clouds of Sils Maria. Yet, like any good artist, Assayas nods to influences but makes his own definitive work.