A Complete Clouds of Sils Maria Explanation and Walkthrough
Sils Maria is a fascinating mental-deep-dive into these two characters and their lives. Amazing acting and brilliant writing permeate this story throughout. IMDB
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Ok shoot me. I had no idea what “Clouds of Sils Maria” was going in. None. I knew Kristen Stewart was in it and Juliette Binoche. Binoche good, Stewart bad… oh alright, we’ll call it even on a slow entertainment night and give it a try. What happened next? I was agog for the entirety of its 124 minute running time. Literally. Mouth open. Eyes wide. ‘What am I watching here’ sort of amazement. If you walked into Birdman cold you know what I’m talking about here. That sort of a visceral, what is happening, response of seeing Keaton sort of playing himself, but not? Yeah… that is actually what happens in Sils Maria. But instead of at a level of 8 on the “What The HECK is Going On Here” scale, its actually more like a break the dial 27 instead.

So let me start over and tell you what this movie actually is, so that you have some semblance of a clue going into it. At least just enough of a walk through to contextualize where you stand. We will get to the spoiler bits in a bit – and those will be very very clearly demarcated. Good.

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Clouds of Sils Maria Overview

“Clouds of Sils Maria” centers on the struggles of an aging actress named Maria Enders (Binoche) and her personal assistant Valentine (Stewart). Maria is asked to redo a play that made her famous at the age of 18… but with a twist. The play involved two women, a younger woman and an older woman that basically end up playing a game of cat and mouse emotionally. The older woman falls in love with the younger woman, the younger woman toys with the older woman, and ultimately (apparently) the older woman commits suicide. This time though – 20 years on – Maria has been asked to play the role of the older woman, not the younger woman.

So for a lot of the movie we are seeing her discuss her original participation in this experience that made her famous and the impacts that this had on her life. And we also see her trying to decide whether she will in reprise her participation in the play at all. She is conflicted as she considers playing the less powerful, less impactful character… at least from her current perspective. And all the while, her ever present assistant Valentine is there, commenting, prodding, encouraging, directing Maria. The plot is a bit of a quiet, slow, development of the constant unfolding of an enormous misdirection con. The audience is bracing itself perpetually to interact with Maria and this new young up and coming starlet, Chloë Grace Moretz (Joe-Ann Ellis), when in fact we’ve been watching the dance all along and it has been between Maria and Valentine.

Pardon the reduction, but Sils Maria is a movie that is making a play with the sort of quality to it that is similar in form to say, the Moulin Rouge.  Which is a movie about a guy writing a play about a guy writing a play about the girl he wants to marry. Sils Maria has this sort of collapsing kaleidoscope effect to it that sort of is unsettling and yet natural at the same time. At many times throughout the movie as Maria and Val rehearse the lines of that play are saying exactly what their ‘real’ counterparts would be saying. So much so that you have to listen to the names use to refer to themselves to determine whether they are still rehearsing or if they have left the script and began speaking honestly finally.

For example, current, real stars are referenced. Famous people and their very real movies are referenced. Fictional movies that sound awfully like the Twilight series are referenced replete with werewolves, et al. If I hadn’t known any better I would have guessed the movie was more a documentary, or at the very least a docudrama about real life as opposed to the completely fictionalized writings of Olivier Assayas.

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Now For the Sils Maria Explanation and Walkthrough

Before I delve on the movie explanation and walkthrough I think it is important that we eject all readers that have not seen the movie yet. If you are reading this, I promise you you will like the movie. So go watch it and then return to discuss the more intricate details of how the movie works. Ok? Good.

A Quick Overview of the Movie Events
As the movie opens, Maria and Val are on a train heading to an awards ceremony on behalf of Wilhelm Melchior. Wilhelm was the writer and director of Maloja Snake that pole-vaulted Maria to stardom. The role Maria played, as an 18 year old upstart, was that of the ever manipulative Sigrid, who toys with her 20 year older counterpart, Helena, who is obviously falling for her younger counterpart. While still en route to the award ceremony Val and Maria learn that Wilhelm has passed away which has a significant impact on the proceedings and even whether Maria wants to even be involved. She decides to stay and receive the award but not before finding out that Wilhelm had been sick and that he had committed suicide.

Just before receiving the award Valentine sets up a meeting with Lars Eidinger who is an up and coming director who wants to do a reboot of Wilhelm’s original play, Maloja Snake, that had made Maria famous. But in Lars’ version he wants to cast Maria not again as Sigrid, but this time as the older Helena. This becomes one of the more interesting conversation points the movie brings to the table with regard to age and just how relevant older stars are throughout the industry. Eventually Valentine convinces Maria that playing Helena would be a great way to show that older actresses and characters can still be powerful and innocent simultaneously. Maria consents to the role and off to Sils-Maria within Swiss Alps the pair go, to begin practicing for the part. It was there that Maria becomes completely unsettled by the death of her mentor, and with her own fragility, and begins to grapple with her past while also struggle with the immediacy of her impending future.

And with that in mind, it is throughout this section of rehearsals in the Alps that the single most meta section of the movie begins. If meta-self-referentialism isn’t your shtick then I’m sure you are here to lambast the movie and not to understand it more fully, because the meta-game here is pretty intense. It is here that Assayas has completely built up a play in and about his work with Juliette Binoche. The writer/director’s first release that he filmed was debuted at Cannes and was entitled “Rendezvous”… and it made Juliette a star. Mr. Assayas signed on to a reunion, which he “had no idea what the film would be,” he said, “but I knew I could do something with Juliette in relationship to our common history.” The history of their movie-making relationship is what is obviously mined through out Sils Maria.

As the rehearsals become more and more intense, and we begin to see Valentine slowly begin to opine honestly, we see the roles of Helena and Sigrid stripped away and we start to see the true feelings of Maria and Valentine. Valentine chafes at Maria’s snobbery towards her and begins to resent her boss and the lack of consideration. Maria doesn’t understand why Valentine would enjoy pop-culture movies and their lack of insightfulness. And ultimate we see a lack of willingness to change on Maria’s behalf that ultimately propels this relationship to its conclusion.

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Clouds of Sils Maria Conclusion Explained

Valentine, throughout the movie, is very interested in seeing this phenomenon of the snake. The Maloja Snake is the colloquial name for a very unusual cloud formation in that area that occurs is a series of low clouds that form low to the earth because of an overhanging high pressure that forces the clouds into the valley of the mountains. It is an amazing meteorological experience and Valentine is bound and determined to do absolutely everything in her power to see it. Maria on the other hand isn’t impressed by the fact that she is being expected to get up early to hike just to see a bunch of clouds. Then one morning the concierge lets Valentine know that conditions were perfect to see the snake the next morning early.

As the two are on their way Maria expresses concern that they are lost and that she was frustrated. This obviously irritates Valentine to no end as she is perfectly aware of where they are and where they are going. She even attempts to show Maria on the map, “See we just came around this bend, and we are about to round this bend here and see the snake.” But Maria will have none of it, and charges off on the trail ahead of Valentine. Val follows until the bend and then she disappears into a crest as we see Maria trudging defiantly on towards the view of the snake.

When Maria arrives at a good destination spot to watch from, she sits on a trail and waits for the snake and for Valentine to join her, as she always has before.

But Valentine never comes. Maria begins to scream for her, but Val never responds and we never see her again. The clouds form and coalesce into a slithering form and it ducks and weaves throughout the mountains, but Maria and Val never see it, and they never see each other again.

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The Trouble With The Ending of Sils Maria

In the script we are told that Sigrid spurns Helena on to commit suicide by heading into the mountains and is never seen again. Wilhelm too heads out into the mountains to commit suicide. So the question that faces us today is, did Valentine leave Maria behind to commit suicide in the mountains… maybe even while watching the snake form and dance amongst the mountains? The ending is ambiguous. All that we know is that Valentine is infuriated by Maria and she stomps off into the mountains.

My personal view is pretty clear… Valentine chooses this moment to abandon a woman that had been brutal and demanding of her from the very beginning. Valentine had put up with the condescension with great aplomb. Occasionally she began to mention Maria’s overbearing nature. But it was ultimately Maria’s disregard for modern entertainment in the form of Jo-Ann Ellis’ space movie that really drove Valentine to the brink.

Which is fascinating really. Here we have, Kristen Stewart, the queen of teen pop entertainment defending the mob of tweens that rabidly consume this “mindless fare” that Maria is railing against. Valentine gives Jo-Ann’s acting accolades because she is so accessible and vulnerable. Maria even takes umbrage at this, because she believes that Val is implying that her acting isn’t accessible, that it is stuffy and academic. Which, if there is one critique of Binoche’s acting it would be exactly that. And if there is any critique of Kristen’s acting it would be that she is too lazy in her acting.

Assayas even comments on this overlapping of reality with fiction: “Even in the shift of perspective, because obviously Kristen is playing a character who is commenting on Kristen Stewart, but it’s a movie where you never lose consciousness of who the actresses are, and in the end that’s a very important element of the film. But that’s something I only realized gradually.” And so with that, I think its clear that there is no way on earth that Valentine commits suicide in the Alps. I even watched very closely in the crowd shots to see if I could see Valentine one last time, knowing full well that she had to be alive.

The movie flips the script upside down and instead of having Helena leave, we have Valentine disappear. Which also comments on the actual reality of what happened to Helena as well. She had to have not committed suicide either. Valentine even opens our eyes to this possibility when she tells Maria as she is rehearsing Helena’s role that she didn’t read the script to believe that Helena committed suicide, she says that the script is ambiguous on this point and that she just goes into the mountains and disappears. So too does Valentine head off into the mountains and disappear for good.

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What about the Epilogue?

Where Sils Maria runs completely off the rails is the epilogue. The movie had a beautiful ending at the end. To tack on a very Hollywood-style ending (I mean that in the worst possible way) in the form of an epilogue is about as cheesy as it comes. But I’m sure some people would want to have the clarity and resolution of what the epilogue provided. “And what clarity exactly did it provide Taylor?” Thanks for asking…

Basically the only purpose of the epilogue is to show how Maria was affected by Valentine – and that she meant something to her. How do I know that? Simple enough, throughout the entirety of the epilogue we are given example, after example, of how she had adopted Valentine’s way of thinking. She was considering a space movie – “Is it on earth?” She was accommodating and understanding with the plight of her new assistant in this daunting role. Maria asked for opinions of others and was generally transformed from beginning to end. Assayas assuredly attached on the epilogue to soften the blow to Binoche directly, it is, after all, a story about his relationship with her ultimately. We can’t leave Binoche in the dog house, seeing as though she was the tent stake actress to carry this movie… that is until Kristen Stewart showed up and blew everyone else off the screen.

Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to win a Cesar at France’s most prominent film awards show on Friday (February, 2015). Stewart won best supporting actress for her co-starring role in “Cloud of Sils Maria,” directed by Olivier Assayas and also starring Juliette Binoche and Chloe Grace Moretz.

She definitely deserved it. I was transfixed throughout. And I was actually completely disengaged when Kristen made her departure before the epilogue. Binoche was good. But Stewart was literally brilliant. And there is word on the street that Kristen will be doing another French film soon… which I cry bravo. Kudos to you Kristen for finding your stride.

Edited by, CY

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61 Responses

  1. Fay

    I just watched the movie and it was amazing. Throughout the movie, I gradually realized that the line they rehearsed was actually what they would say to each other. Finally, thanks to this review, I finally understand why valentine left maria at that particular time and place.

    Reply
    • taylor

      Thanks a ton Fay for the comment. And yeah, that line was definitely was a well cooked grenade of foreshadowing. That’s why I loved it so much. The play they were “rehearsing” we’re the lines they were actually saying to each other in real life. Or were going to! Haha. Glad you enjoyed the review, and more importantly the movie!

      Reply
      • Christine Crocetti-Rancourt

        Taylor, I loved Clouds of Sils Maria! However I was left completely bewildered when Val just disappeared. I followed the movie but that through me. I went looking for answers and found you! Thankfully! I agree that Val didn’t commit suicide. The epilogue was a bit of a let down but as you explain it demonstrates how much Maria learned from Val. I thought Kristen and Juliette were both fantastic in the movie and if I could I would give it 5 stars. Thank you for taking us a bit deeper into it.

        Fondly,
        Christine Rancourt

    • Katherine

      Thank you for mimicking my feelings as this movie ended. Believe me, I had to rewind 5 times to accept the fact that Valentine had actually left us. She’s an incredible actress, so natural and non-acting. I’d only seen her in Still Alice where she played the same sort of raw, vulnerable yet outspoken character, one with whom I relate tremendously. These 3 women are so engaging in their depth (or lack there of in one character) that I feel as though I’ve known them all my life. The ‘Epilogue’ was more an echo than an ending–an echo that whispered the name of the true soul whose absence carved a huge hole where she had once stood.

      Reply
    • missskitttin

      As with every Kstew movie, I have to squint my eyes alittle and imagine she’s not there. Only then I kind of liked it. So what about Chloe Moretz. Did you notice she was there? You didnt mention her and the boyfriend, and his wife,etc.

      Reply
      • Taylor Holmes

        Hey there Kittin…
        Fair responses. Everyone in this movie did a wonderful job. The acting was riveting throughout. No one dropped the ball. But to be honest? This thing is a two-person play. Or might as well be.

        When I wrote this, I was just gobsmacked that I thought Stewart pulled it off. I expected to pan this movie. So sure, I concentrated on her surprising coup to the detriment of the rest of the acting talent. But yeah, this is a two woman film practically speaking.

    • Lee Kronick

      I always love Juliette Binoche. But I was duly impressed with Kristin Stewart. And…yes, I often found it difficult to know if they were rehearsing lines or exchanging serious and deeply emotional personal…real…dialogue. Well done.

      Reply
      • John Pavlou

        I enjoyed that ambiguity as well. But I also thought that Val’s ease with the material and her very convincing delivery were actually a false note. Unless we might think she had studied acting in the past.

  2. Sonja

    I liked your walkthrough and it has helped me to understand a bit better what the film was driving at, but I think you should pay attention to detail. The new version of the Malojasnake that Maria is preparing is a play, not a movie, and its fictional director is called Klaus Diesterweg, not Lars Eidinger, that’s the name of the actor who’s playing him.

    Reply
      • Taylor Holmes

        Yeah, not sure how I got stuck with a movie in my head. I definitely knew it was a play when I originally watched the filmed. And even when I rewatched it recently it was clear. But when I started writing the movie chaos definitely derailed me. Sorry about that everyone!

  3. Vivix Vignesh

    I started watching it last week and I ended watching the conclusion today (7 days). Part to part as nothing was intriguing.For me it was like “is that it?” I do understand that it’s a drama, but no seem of interesting thing happened. Chole played very well, Kristen is unbelievable. Yes but they missed the connectivity. Even with the clouds. May be it’s beautiful in its own way.

    Reply
    • Debbie Graham

      Voyons. Juliette B. is amazing, always but this was such a boring character. Kirsten S. needs to stop sneering and the other one needs to stop flaring her nostrils. It was one of the biggest disappointments I have seen in a film, I actually started looking for nail polish on Amazon and I don’t wear nail polish….it was so predictable, and the only reason I appreciated watching most of it was to learn about that amazing cloud formation. My dog had to go out during the epilogue, and that was definitely more important. Did anyone watching really care about any of these characters?

      Reply
      • Taylor

        It apparently takes all kinds… I obviously dug the characters. But I already explained all that already.

        Hopefully you found a lovely shade…

      • Kate

        I’m a bit late to the commenting here—but did want to say I appreciate this analysis–with the exception of the severe over-lauding of Ms. Stewart’s acting skills. C’mon! Not sure how that performance is “skilled acting”–she basically kind of slouches around, sneers, scratches her hair and looks blank. My drama classmates from back in tenth grade could all do as good a job. The glasses, ratty hair and head scratching do whatever acting there is for her.

      • Dina

        IMO, when she’s not over-edited or poorly edited, Kristen Stewart’s acting is fantastic. She seems to take a character and turns them into a person–a whole person, that no longer feels like they exist solely for the purposes of telling this one story. She does things on screen (like slouch, sneer, and scratch her hair) that a person would do, but that actors typically don’t unless it furthers the plot. I think it’s great. Val seemed like someone I might know–a cousin, classmate, friend, what have you. She seemed real.

      • Taylor Holmes

        Totally agree. Seemed real is the best compliment an actor could ever receive. The problem I have is, was this her being herself? I mean, not acting? Just participating in this movie from her own experiences? I personally don’t think so, but it’s a valid question. Regardless I was blown away by her in this movie.

  4. Lucy

    I just watched the film and immediately started to google it after the epilogue because I didn’t understand what happened to Val and I didn’t get what I was supposed to understand anything from the epilogue. I guess I didn’t pick up on Val as being treated bad by Maria. I thought they enjoyed the challenge of the others point of view until they were on the hike together to see The Snake phenomena. I was suprised that Val would abandon her boss and the opportunity to see The Snake she was so interested in after one scene where Maria seems to frustrate Val for not being more open minded and interpreting the role differently than she might have as the younger character she played in the past. I didn’t pick up on any of the ways that Maria was acting out of character or seemed to have changed by her relationship with the assistant. I agree with the conclusion that Val did not commit suicide. I feel certain that Val moved onto something different and was not emotionally damaged by Maria. I was disappointed that Val didn’t show up in the audience of the play. this makes me feel like perhaps Val was not affected or as strongly connected to Maria since she left so easily over such a minor disagreement.

    Reply
    • Mary

      I didn’t feel that Val left easily. In fact, I felt like it was a very difficult decision for her, so difficult that she felt forced to leave without Saying goodbye. She had tried to leave before when she felt like the relationship wasn’t working any longer but Maria asked her to stay. I think her relationship with Maria was so important to her and Maria was so strong-willed that Val thought this was the only way she could leave.

      Reply
  5. barzol

    It may sound strange, but watching Sils Maria yesterday I had the feeling Maria and Val were the same person’s two personalities. Val was the rational and Maria was the emotional side of her. Val disappears when Maria sees the birth of the snake, as a revelation of her self acceptance. Val didn’t appear later because Maria already reunited with her younger side, that had wanted to move on, but couldn’t due to Maria’s irrational fear of ageing.

    Reply
    • Serena

      Barzol, I came to the same conclusion watching the movie for the first time last night. I watched the movie again today, to see if the theory held up and how they interacted in public. In each scene, it is either Maria or Val, but not both, interacting with the other characters. Val is dismissed or leaves when Maria is feeling confident. The case is strong, especially when you watch the scenes where they interact with Wilhem’s wife (who knew Maria when she was 18) – the way the scenes are set up. I thought it was Val on the mountain with his widow the first few sentences of dialogue. And when the widow leaves, the way the scene is cut, they are hugging her at the same time.

      Reply
    • gilles

      I agree. This idea is foreshadowed when the director of the project explains how he saw the two roles being the same person.

      Reply
    • Jen

      I hadn’t picked up on the two characters being one conflicted person, but Val does hint towards this possibility when she encourages Maria to see Sigrid and Helena as younger and older versions of the same character.

      I never thought that Val had committed suicide, I thought she had outgrown the relationship and had probably never been on the mountain that day.

      The epilogue was very significant because we see how Maria has integrated the her younger self back into her current self through going through the process of preparing for the play. She speaks to a young man in her dressing room who praises her for being “out of time” (timeless) and far removed from the Internet scandals and acting style of Joe-Ann, when in reality we know that Maria was effectively the equivalent of Joe-Ann in her own days as starlet. Val was right; Sigrid was the younger version of Helena. Both Maria and Helena faced being simultaneously repelled by and attracted to younger versions of themselves. Only by going through the process of re-integration of the selves would they be able to mature and move forwards in life.

      Reply
    • Laure

      “Swimming Pool,” starring Charlotte Rampling and Ludivine Sagnier, came to mind when watching this movie. As did “All About Eve.” I agree that Valentine is Maria’s youthful alter ego, counseling her through the jitters of middle age and the prospect of being eclipsed by her former self. In a scene on the train, Maria readily admits to having regret, and later in the film she delights in the retelling of her youthful rejection of it. It’s life. And few of us survive it without a regret or two.

      Reply
  6. Stephanie

    I came to this site after watching the movie to try to find out if Valentine was possibly pregnant, and that is why she really disappeared (as well as to viscerally show Maria that the Helena character had not necessarily committed suicide on her hike). The movie mentioned in the beginning at the award party Valentine’s liaison with a photographer that she liked, plus it showed her throwing up on her way to see him again (on that strange, misty “2-hour” drive), and she said “oh, sh*t” after she threw up and looked upset. Unfortunately, no sites seem to address this possibility. Also, I didn’t see the movie as Maria being mean to Valentine, only stubborn to accept her views (on aging, acting, relationships, the talents of the new Sigrid, etc). The event that finally changed Maria’s mind about Valentine’s views (as evidenced by the epilogue) was Valentine disappearing on their hike, just like Helena had done. I still kept expecting Valentine to show up at the play’s premiere with a big pregnant belly. I guess I just wanted to know for sure that Valentine was alive, but then again, that ambiguity has kept the movie in my mind long after I saw it.

    Reply
    • Pat

      I also was under the impression she was pregnant. She drank a lot so I assume she didn’t want to keep it and that’s why she left. To mirror Helena and to take care of her pregnancy.

      Reply
  7. Dhdh

    Just saw this movie on a whim. Totally transfixed. Just a beautiful film… Akin to a great poem. Great acting, I completely disagree with you on Juliette binoche but agree Kristen Stewart was impressive although still a bit lazy in a couple scenes during the line readings. I have to say I disagree with you about the epilogue as I still found it all so interesting. One thing I want to say about your article is that it is misleading. I thought you were going to talk about the actual ending and what you think that last scene meant after Maria takes the meeting about the space movie. But instead you talk about the parting of Val and Maria. Btw I never ever thought Val went off to commit suicide. It’s pretty clear from her interpretation of the play and Helena that she wasn’t headed there.

    Reply
  8. Taylor

    Hey Kate,
    Well – Europe gave her a César for best female actress of the year… Which is the American equivalent of an Oscar. So I wasn’t the only one. But it could be that she wasn’t acting – that was her – her life, her role in movies in general… Which is why it was so interesting to me. It was very multi-faceted from top to bottom. At least for me. But I get it… This movie is definitely not for everyone.

    Thanks for swinging by,
    Taylor

    Reply
  9. Ed

    I’m not a movie buff buy any sense the imagination. And Foriegn Films are usually not what I go in for. But I think Valentine left Maria when she did so Maria could concentrate on her role as Helena. I think Valentine thought that they’re differing views on the play and Helena (as well as other things) were muddying up her ability to prepare. I think Valetine loved her job as Maria’s assistant, and to one degree or another loved Maria too. And by walking away when she did I think it was a sacrifice by Valenine to give Maria the
    space and peace of mind she needed to concentrate on preparing for what could’ve been a pivotal role in an important juncture in her career.

    Reply
  10. Dolores

    I began watching knowing nothing about the film, but I soon began thinking of Valentine as part of Maria’s subconscious self. Their conversations seemed too interrelated, too woven together to be two separate people. It seemed Maria was working out the aging thing, and was doing it through a character she’d played as an 18 yr old. As she works on the role of Helena, the “relationship” with Valentine becomes volatile because her reality and subconscious are colliding, but the disruption of playing the older woman needs to be smoothed out before she can take on the role of aging actress. Thus, the trek to witness the snake clouds, something her younger self missed, but that her older self no longer needs to witness. Valentine, like Mary Poppins, disappears once she’s no longer needed.

    Reply
    • Charles Brinkhurst

      I agree, I think.
      Val never existed, as such, merely a projection upon Marie’s real PA, seen later in the film, for real.
      Marie was “simply” reassessing her past in the midst of a kind of mid-life crisis, listening to her subconscious, and effectively projecting all over the place in order to get back to grips with herself; live the dream again…

      Reply
  11. Lu

    Excellent movie. All actresses were exceptional. What I noticed was in most scenes Val is following Maria on their ‘hikes’ only in the last one is Val leading the way. Interesting r/2 aging and generation gap.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      No. He did not. He should though. Because that is a great flick, and confusing as HECK. Thanks for the suggestion, he really should do that! haha.

      taylor

      Reply
  12. ann

    A poignant film about femininity and aging. A gem that takes a rare look into the inner life and difficulties that face aging women.

    For me, the 3 women represented the universal female journey. The black and white attitude, and lack of compassion and penetration of youth (Joe-Ann); the confident surety and astuteness of a more mature young woman (Valentine – her name speaks); and the existential doubt that can come with approaching middle age, loss of youth, divorce and death (Maria – she’s starting to view life in past tense).

    I thought the mist snake represented the steady creep of old age and death. Valentine, mature and wise beyond her years longs to see it. She’s unafraid of age and dying, which we see in her compassion for Helena’s character and her belief that Helena continued to exist after her disappearance in the play. Maria however, doesn’t care to see it. She’s afraid of age and in denial of its inevitability. She doesn’t even want to trust the map that Valentine uses to get them to the viewing ridge. She refuses to trust fact or wisdom.

    Valentine disappears before seeing the snake because it’s not her time to experience it yet, she’s still young. She also leaves because she and Maria’s mutual life lessons have come to an end. She guided Maria to viewing ridge where Maria might finally find the courage to face her own mortality.

    Maria see’s the snake emerge from the hidden canyons. At first she’s not quite sure if it’s real. The mist is beautiful, powerful and all engulfing. And just like age and death, nothing escapes it. Maria only sticks around to see its beginnings, because that’s all she needs to see and acknowledge.

    The mist scene was the major turning point of the movie. In the epilogue Maria finally starts to wake up to who she really is – a soul outside of time – as the young director points out to her just before she gives her first stage performance in London as Helena. She comes full circle. She starts to accept her own mortality with grace she’s finally able to embrace Helena and inhabit her character fully and sincerely.

    Other themes in the movie – the 3 suicides (Helena, Wilhelm and the writer’s wife); the internet age/future and the past; youth/age; what is art?; life/death; power plays in interpersonal relationships… where all fascinating too – which is what made it such an exceptional movie!.

    Reply
    • nikko

      Ann,
      I think you are spot on about the snake metaphor.I just didn’t like how Val just “disappeared”, which led me to this site.
      I did find it laughable about Val feeling stifled while hanging out in the swiss alps, thinking about quitting.
      The euro girly men in this movie was a turnoff also.It must be in the water.
      I know it’s a chick flick,but two hours of these over indulged vagina gazers started to get to me.

      Reply
  13. Nada

    I think the epilogue and especially one of the last scenes brought a new meaning to the movie. The screen writer (if I am not mistaken) tells Maria that the character he wants her to play is “outside of time”. Maria throughout the movie, has been reliving her past, rehearsing the play with Val ,which as someone said before ,the lines they tell each other foresee how their relationship was going to evolve which means she was living the past, the present and a hypothetical future. In the end, she seems to become more accepting of the evolution of acting and “celebrity news”. But still, when she gives advice to Johan (?), she hasn’t lost her old habits. I think Maria’s will to accept the world around her and her becoming old underlines the fact that she has become neither old nor young. She’s in between two generations, going back and forth and I think that makes her “outside of time”. She’s the only character in the movie who accepts and actually understands both youth and oldness (?). Wilheilm, his wife, Val, Johan, they are all trapped in their own age. I feel like everyone reproached her lack of open mindedness, but the epilogue shows thats she’s the one who’s able to understand everyone’s point of view while siding with neither of them.

    Reply
  14. Dale Sophiea

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned is that Maria’s advice to Jo Anne is probably not as innocent as it seems. She figures it’s not in the cocky wild child’s make up to take her advice, so she insures that her character’s fate will linger more in everyone’s minds than Sigrid’s. Just like we’re all a bit more interested in Val after her abrupt exit, one with no drawn out goodbye. This is deep, well played manipulation.

    Reply
  15. Alison

    I love this analysis! The parallels between the characters, fictional or otherwise, in the film are enough to keep you up at night thinking about how they all connect. Just wanted to say that in the epilogue, I felt that its purpose was also to show how Jo-Ann is almost becoming a ‘new Maria’, as Klaus and Jo-Ann run into the car and nearly leave Maria behind. Jo-Ann’s youth is starting to overshadow Maria’s dignified celebrity, and the roles are reversing. It seems to me that Maria can see how Jo-Ann is becoming a younger version of herself, and doesn’t know how to deal with being overshadowed by the drama in Jo-Ann’s life. However, Val’s disappearance seems to have strengthened and hardened Maria as a person, as her manner towards her new assistant is tougher and more brusque than she was before, and on the final shot of Maria just as the curtain is about to rise, we as the viewer know that Maria feels in control again.

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey there Alison,
      I like your perspective on the epilogue. They began to switch places, each one imprinting on the other. Fascinating. I guess I was so over the top about Stewart’s performance the ending was dead to me when I realized she was gone for good. But yeah, I can see that reading of the ending. Such a fantastic movie. Need to go back and watch it again.

      Taylor

      Reply
  16. Tsuki

    I bought this movie when it came out. I finally watched it yesterday. I then went out to find if what I thought about the movie was along the same with others. And it is. I thought it was an ok movie and the Kristen Stewart totally stole every scene. My only, not really complaint more disgruntlement, is that we don’t know what happened to Valentine – like in the original play. The epilogue could have at least mentioned het and where she was at…

    Thank you for your thoughts and summary!

    Reply
    • Taylor Holmes

      Fair enough (sacriledge) we all have the right to our own opinion (rubbish!) and we should defend this right in others (over my own dead body!) hahah. Seriously though, it definitely takes a certain type of OCD to enjoy this movie. Definitely means you are probably pretty normal! Hahah.

      Reply
  17. Shan

    No one mentions the music in this film. For me, all of the really great films have great music that truly contributes to the narrative. The first view of the snake, as described by Wilhelm’s wife and some old-as-dirt silent educational film, features very antiquated classical music. This is the old. Then, from Val’s point of view we see images of the snake again with modern but eclectic rock music playing. This is the new. The final view of the snake (although through the play) we hear the prelude of Pachelbel Canon which is a classical piece of music that is enjoyed and known by many people today, almost to the point of being considered popular. And throughout the epilogue, we only hear what is essentially the prelude portion of the Pachelbel. It isn’t until the end credits roll that we get to the melody of the music, almost in a climactic fashion as though it has fully developed into itself. Like Maria. A combination of the old and the new.

    Reply
    • Shan

      And the first two times that we see the snake, the cinematography of the view of the snake also mirrors the music. The first time, you can tell it was shot in 1920 or something. Black and white, very still with slow, stilted movement of the clouds. The Val/Rock version of the snake showcases vibrant color, dynamic movement, and exciting photography almost like from a music video.

      Reply
  18. Hyacinth

    I liked the movie but the ending left me hanging so I wanted to see other people’s opinions on them. Pretty glad I did! Kudos to ur interpretations.

    I don’t think this required much acting out of Kristen Stewart tho. I think we’re seeing her real self here. Whether that deserves recognition or not, I don’t know…It was her interview that led me to this movie and I couldn’t differentiate her role from how she acts in her interviews (assuming she’s being her true self at such times). I guess that’s how she “keeps it real”. I guess she’s attracted to roles that are very similar to her personality??? I mean, she plays them quite well & she was engaging in this role but still.

    For once I’d like to see her in a movie that doesn’t remind me of her…. if that makes any sense. Like Joseph Gordon Levitt for example in Looper for e.g. Or Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings. Or hell, Heath Ledger in Batman. They all disappeared in their roles. Even had high hopes for her in the Snow White but alas….

    Reply
  19. Hyacinth79

    Sorry, I realized I got sidetracked a little. I wanted to add that this film is about the ability to reinvent yourself at each crossroad/tragedy for all the women in this film: Wilhem’s widow – had to leave their house after his death, Val after her disappearance as she alluded to during her argument with Maria about Helena’s ending leaving a professional relationship that she felt was going nowhere, Jo-Ann after accepting this role/having a new lover seemed to have reinvented herself to show maturity (classical music, no more bad behaviours, etc) & of course Maria being open to sci-fi roles she once considered a joke, waiting to rehearse lines & whether she would finally be accepting of her “timeless” self…tho if it were up to me, her road there will be slow as the maloja snake in getting there as she was hesitant in accepting the role, asked Jo Ann to “linger” in the scene, etc. Took those as signs she will make baby steps to take her to that stage.

    Reply
  20. Wasian_Invasion

    I just watched it for the second time, and I had a slight epiphany. When I first watched it I was confused, I didn’t quite understand a lot of things but after delving deeper and paying attention to the lines, I think that this film is so meta that it’s almost like a sequel to the original play, as mentioned in the film. The film talks about how a sequel was in the works which takes place 20 years later, following an older Sigrid in a similar situation as Helena. I think that the entire film is basically that, except instead of Sigrid being manipulated by a young assistant like Helena was, the tables are turned and the young assistant is manipulated by the older woman. Think of it this way. I agree with the point mentioned that it’s practically the play, there’s Valentine, the young personal assistant, and Maria the older woman. They both definitely have a connection, romantic or not, but instead of the Maria being like Helena, who was vulnerable and wise, she is still in the mindset of Sigrid, who is young and cruel, willing to manipulate her counterpart to get what she wants. In the same way, Valentine who one would expect to be the wild, young, manipulative one, is compassionate, vulanerable and looks at age and wisdom as a beautiful trait. She even mentions when they’re rehearsing, and Maria speaks of Helena being weak, that it’s all about perspective and what side of the story you’re on, and as her opinions about Helena proves, she is more in Helena’s shoes than Sigrid’s. Another way to see this is through Val and Maria’s interactions throughout the film. There’s one interaction in which, after running lines with Maria, Valentine suggests that if she doesn’t like her opinions that she should probably leave, since she’s not really needed or direct for the process, but she eventually decides to stay, after Maria hugs her, telling her that she needs her. Now although this doesn’t suggest much, looking at this I couldn’t help but be reminded of the scene in the play where Helena tells Sigrid that the affair needs to stop, and when Sigrid says she should leave, Helena eventually tells her not to, but instead of the younger counterpart being the manipulative one it’s Maria. Val clearly didn’t need to stay; not only was she dealing with Maria’s blatantly arrogant opinions, she was constantly hearing and experiencing her laughing at and even mocking her own, without regard for how she felt, and yet she still found the time to laugh and joke along with her. Some more possible evidence is the way that Maria talks about Val’s boyfriends, mentioning that she never keeps them for long, as well as how Val shrugs off the photographer. Although I didn’t quite understand the scene of Val driving, I thought it was her either getting lost or sick on the drive, before returning home, possibly not even meeting her date in the first place, since maria found her early in the morning in bed asleep. I may be wrong, but there’s also Maria’s behaviour that may support this overall theory. As I said, Maria is in the place of Sigrid, and is possibly because of her age deliberately holding onto her memories of Sigrid’s personality from her days playing her. You can see throughout the film her possessiveness, and her need for validation from Valentine, and yet when you watch the two characters body language and actions, Valentine seems to show more affection, doing practically everything that she says, and even brushing her face in one scene in a way that’s stood out as more than just a random acting decision. She acts kind of like a love struck girl, giggling at whatever her crush says, even if it’s almost disrespectful, and doing whatever her crush wants, as Helena does for Sigrid in the play. This would all kind of tie into how their final interaction goes, it’s even similar to Sigrid and Helen’s final interaction in the play. Val wants to go see the snake, as mentioned, and it seems to be quite important to her. Other than a few moments she may have had with the photographer, this seems to be one of the only moments thats more for herself than Maria, who blatantly disregards Val, telling her she’s wrong and claiming that there’s not even gonna be a snake. In the same way, in the last scene that they rehearse between Sigrid and a Helena, Sigrid blatantly disregards Helena and her feelings, talking about her company and how it’s washed up and going down the drain. Afterwards the last we hear of Helena’s story is her leaving by going on a hike and never coming back, and in the same way that’s how it happens with Val. She goes on a hike, and after being treated cruelly by Maria, leaves to hopefully reinvent herself, as she suggested Helena does. This theory would explain why they both sympathize with each character so much, because this suggests that each of them are going through the experience of each character, except with Maria it’s Sigrid and with Val it’s Helena.
    As for the epilogue, I agree that I think that Val impacted her point of view, but I also think that the new scenes from Wilhelm created a new view of Helena for Maria, or even that Val was what was helping Maria hold onto the idea of her youth, since after Val left she no longer needed her VAL-idation….. that was embarrassing… and no longer did the same things as before. Perhaps she knew the power she had over Val, and was using her as a way to feel the same as she did when she played Sigrid, young and powerful.

    Reply
  21. Charlie

    I enjoyed this movie so much and the more I think about it, the more I love it. It’s like a riddle — there are so many subtle parallels and twists but in the end, there is a clear conclusion that makes the epilogue so beautiful.

    The riddle is this: which character does Maria embody — Sigrid or Helena?

    The answer: both. Hear me out!

    Let me preface by saying Maria’s character is the major dynamic character in the movie and Juliette Binoche plays it masterfully. I think Kristen Stewart did a phenomenal job as her foil (likewise also Chloë Grace Moretz) but the subtleties to Binoche’s performance was incredible. She had to play two opposing personalities and come off as believable.

    So let’s start off with some facts:

    1. Maria played the Sigrid role in her youth and she clings to it. Sigrid represents desirability and power (through manipulation), contrast against Helena’s character whom Maria sees as weak and dependent. The movie throws us a red herring because we initially associate Maria as Helena due to similarities in age and we assume this is a weakness given Maria’s insecurities about her own fading status. But the clues! Maria can be manipulative and she is proud of her desirability e.g. her intimacy with the director or that suggestive wink when she remarks on Harrison Ford’s helpfulness. We see Maria abuse Valentine emotionally, alternating between mockery and kindness. And just as an older Sigrid would do, when Maria is frustrated by her loss of desirability when the man doesn’t visit her after she hands him her room number, she throws a fit and threatens to pull out of the play.

    2. Jo-Ann is also clearly a Sigrid. This is vital in contrasting with Maria. We see their initial relationship as two Sigrids trying to figure out how to out-manuveuer each other. Jo-Ann plays nice in the beginning to lure Maria in with flattery but shows her true colors in the epilogue. She is Sigrid 2.0 and much more cruel than Maria could ever be.

    3. Valentine starts off as a possible Sigrid but as the movie progresses, she is obviously the victim of Maria’s callousness. While by the end of the movie we only remember that Sigrid dominated Helena, we must remember something that Valentine mentioned — that Helena had some control over Sigrid too, it wasn’t completely one-sided. It was a co-dependent relationship that just became increasingly toxic to Helena (Valentine). Maria does not seem to be intentionally harming Valentine, she just isn’t aware of her own cruelty. And as to whether Valentine committed suicide or not… Maria assumes Helena committed suicide however Valentine counters that Helena may have just walked away and re-invented herself. I believe this is exactly what Valentine did. She left to re-invent herself.

    Now on to the interesting stuff:

    Valentine is Maria’s Helena, just as Maria is Jo-Ann’s Helena. We see the transition beginning after Valentine leaves. Maria is weakened, she begins taking on viewpoints that Valentine expressed, taking on the role of Helena. We see her try to suggest stage directions to Jo-Ann but only to be dismissed. Yet they have a co-dependent relationship too… they each need the other in the play.

    Finally, there is the question of why Maria’s reading of Helena seemed so dominant and Valentine’s reading of Sigrid seemed so much more passive (like a victim). This is because their true natures are being expressed through their interpretation of the character. Valentine’s Sigrid runs away to Tokyo to get away from being controlled. Maria’s portroyal of Helena commits suicide out of this loss of power, like a tantrum. It makes sense that their readings of their opposing character would be colored by their own personalities.

    Reply
  22. Dan

    Isn’t it something how we are all praising Kristen and not so much Juliette (actually,.. not one praise at all that I see in comments)? When her acting was spectacular in itself. Seems the ‘moral of the story’ is played out in real life. Out with the old,. in with the new. I personally have experience with this myself,. I have been cast aside,.

    Reply
    • Charlie

      Juliette portrayed her character with nuance and was the undeniable star of the movie. No surprise in that. The praise for Kirsten is a little more backhanded… nobody quite expected her to add as much as she did. But you are right. As a society, we tend to focus on the decoration rather than the reliable structures holding the whole thing together.

      Reply
  23. Ardilaun

    Stewart was excellent in the movie, no question she pulled it off, but in the words of director Olivier Assayas this was a movie “about Juliette Binoche, starring Juliette Binoche”. Binoche is central to every aspect of it. To ignore her achievement while praising Stewarts undeniable achievement is exactly the theme of the movie and is very ironic.

    Reply
  24. Charles Cicirella

    Really surprised you didn’t mention the part where Valentine was driving back from her date and seemed really out of it. Then she stopped and either vomited or just retched. Later when Maria asked about the date I got the distinct impression Valentine had been raped. Did you also get that feeling?

    Reply
  25. Bart

    *There just wasn’t enough real humanity or real life in the movie for me to enjoy it.
    *I grant that was a clever exercise in plot and character parallelisms and reversals, and so forth.
    *I grant that it showed some of the real mindset of famous actors, directors, and writers.
    *But those things just don’t interest or excite me.
    *At one point in the movie, the Binoche character complains that the play script she’s rehearsing is “too theoretical.” Bingo for this whole movie.
    *I accept that all fiction is a construct and not real life. But I still like fiction that at least seems to be showing me real people in a real life.

    Reply
  26. Bart

    *There just wasn’t enough real humanity or real life in the movie for me to enjoy it.
    *I grant that was a clever exercise in plot and character parallelisms and reversals, and so forth.
    *I grant that it showed some of the real mindset of famous actors, directors, and writers.
    *But those things just don’t interest or excite me.
    *At one point in the movie, the Binoche character complains that the play script she’s rehearsing is “too theoretical.” Bingo for this whole movie.
    *I accept that all fiction is a construct and not real life. But I still like fiction that at least seems to be showing me real people in a real life. And so, I find less and less fiction that I actually enjoy.

    Reply
  27. Bart

    Maria is getting old, and is not coping well with that.
    Soon Maria will be living in an old mansion like Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard,” dreaming of her glory days and planning a return to popularity.
    All in all, there just wasn’t enough real humanity or real life in this movie for me to enjoy it.
    I grant that was a clever exercise in plot and character parallelisms and reversals, and so forth.
    I grant that it showed some of the real mindset of famous actors, directors, and writers.
    This movie is really all about European cinema’s huge inferiority complex (involving a mix of envy, love, hate, etc.) regarding the Hollywood film industry that makes so much money for its popular actors, writers, and directors.
    But those things just don’t interest or excite me.
    At one point in the movie, the Binoche character complains that the play script she’s rehearsing is written in a way that makes it “too theoretical.” That describes this whole movie, in my view.
    I accept that all fiction is a construct and not real life. But I still like fiction that at least seems to be showing me real people in real lives.
    The lives and problems of the famous also don’t interest me much (not being famous myself, and not seeking to be famous).
    “Clouds of Sils Maria,” despite all its artsy, sophisticated structure, is at core just as shallow and empty as the “Twilight” movies it seems to be commenting on. But I don’t think this was intended.
    As I was watching the movie, I kept thinking that the parallelism between the relationship of Maria and Val and the relationship between Helena and Sigrid would play out and culminate in a more interesting and satisfying way.
    Instead, what mainly happens is that Val loses her temper over what is a relatively minor matter (her boss doesn’t appreciate her opinions!–oh, my! how horrible and unheard of!), quits her job, slithers away in secret, and is never seen by or heard about by us again.
    Yes, at the end, as Taylor Holmes astutely points out, we are shown that Maria has adopted some of the opinions of Val. But does that mean that Maria has reached out to Val, expressed to Val how she now sees how wise Val was, and has thereby healed or tried to heal their broken relationship?
    That, in my view, is what this movie should have shown us, but did not.
    All we can do is presume that nothing like that ever happened and never will happen.
    And that leaves us seeing Maria as a really pretty unstable, unsympathetic person who really hasn’t changed or grown. We are left assuming that she’ll have a similar ugly breakup with her new personal assistant and may, at any time, go back to her old negative appraisal of current pop culture.
    Taylor Holmes explanation and walkthrough of this movie was very beneficial to me, and helped me noticed things I hadn’t noticed. Thank you, Taylor Holmes. The comments of the other readers were also very helpful.

    Reply

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