16 March 2018

Maloja Snake

On BBC iPlayer at the moment is Clouds of Sils Maria, a 2014 film by Olivier Assayas with Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart. It shows there is still theatre worthy of the name, even if takes the form of a movie.
Clouds has everything theatre should have: psychological complexity, ambiguity, tension; and lacks all the things theatre should lack: obvious political points, the grimness level set too high, characters that are two-dimensional.

Despite the story being, on the face of it, closely bound up with its physical setting — the Swiss Alps — it is definitely theatrical: the dialogue is the driving force.
If you don’t like theatre, you may find the plot artificial and stilted. If you do like theatre, you should find it moving.

Yet as a film it has two characteristics which I normally regard as warning signs. First, it is almost entirely about women. In spite of this, the flavour is (oddly) more masculine than feminine.
Second, it contains a high degree of “reflexivity”. This is usually offputting, as for instance in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, where the inserted fling between Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep, as actors, is an annoying distraction.
Clouds is about a play, and about acting, and the plot revolves largely around the parallels between the play and the action of the film. In this case, the reflexivity arises naturally and without triggering postmodern ‘irony’.