Oliver Assayas creates feelings in his films that leave me likely to wonder if I'm actually in them, experiencing the narrative. He does this, for me, better than any director working today. CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA is as enigmatic as the title, most of it taking place in a part of Switzerland that seems to be the outcome of a dream Thomas Mann had after reading Tolkien. Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart spend most of the running time talking, sometimes as famous actor and assistant, sometimes as characters in a play-rehearsal-within-a-film, always as stand-ins for our own projected desires and questions. What does it mean to embrace today when it means leaving yesterday behind, especially if yesterday seems to hold more promise? Of course that kind of question is too big for a declamatory film - thank God Quentin Tarantino didn't make this. Assayas knows that concrete answers to questions that need to be held lightly wouldn't just diminish his film, they're not worthy of art that's genuinely trying. He knows also that the spaces between words are often just as important - so if you're a fan of the (not used very often any more, and much lamented by us at Movies and Meaning) fade (out or in), you will feel at home here. That's a bit of a joke, and that's ok, because CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA understands that taking *life* seriously works best when we don't take *ourselves* too seriously.
The Criterion Collection's release of CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA includes a perfect transfer, thoughtful conversations with Assayas, Binoche, and Stewart, and the amazing silent film CLOUD PHENOMENON OF MALOJA