Clouds of Sils Maria / While We're Young

As our generation ages so also are the filmmakers and actors from that generation, who are becoming pre-occupied with making films that reflect on the state of our lives as we grapple with our changing bodies and the world around us. 

Two films of note that deal with our need to stay in touch with our ever changing society while also dealing with the ever pressing sense of our legacy and the limited time available to achieve our ambitions, are Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) and While We’re Young (2015).

Both of these excellent films are about aging artists struggling with the loss of their fading youth and careers. In both stories the aging artists, a well-known film actress in Clouds of Sils Maria and a documentary filmmaker in While We’re Young, are working on difficult late career projects and become bogged down with doubts while striving to recover a sense of excitement and joy they seem to have lost over the years. 

In each case they reach for the advice and influence of much younger people to try and understand the current trends in culture and revive their sense of passion for their own projects. At first this strategy seems to work, giving them a new sense of exuberance and vitality. 

While We're Young:
In the case of Noah Bombauch’s While We’re Young, Josh and his wife Cornelia, played by Ben Stiller – The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013) and Naomi Watts – Birdman (2014), try to reinvent themselves while under the influence of a younger 20 something couple Jamie and Darby, played by Adam Driver – Tracks (2014), This is Where I Leave You (2014) and Amanda Seyfried – Mama Mia! (2008), who are into all things vintage. 

While the middle aged childless couple try to stay relevant with their latest electronic gadgets, the younger couple are obsessed with doing things the old fashioned way, discovering with fascination the music and old-school tech of the 70s and 80s, which of course is ironic since these are the very things our middle aged couple have discarded over the years as new improved tech has come to replaced them, but they now become nostalgic when faced with a blast from their past. 

They are drawn into the lives of their new hipster friends, joining them for fun spontaneous events around New York City that are decidedly non-digital and lament the loss of a simpler way of life. It’s like a Woody Allen film lamenting how much the world has changed from life not so long ago since the digital age changed everything with instant knowledge at our fingertips, but a lack of face to face human interactions. 

While We’re Young is a pleasing and poignant comedy in equal measure, and a welcome return to Ben Stiller’s more subdued and earnest roles like the one he played in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, but still retaining his trademark humor that relishes in awkward situations.

Clouds of Sils Maria:
In Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) a celebrated actress Maria Enders, played by Juliette Binoche – Chocolat (2000), Godzilla (2014), relies on her young assistant Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart – Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), to find new relevance and inspiration in a role from a play that launched her career in her youth. 

At first she dismisses the idea but Valentine eventually convinces Maria to revisit the play performing an older character suited to her current age opposite the young character that made her famous so many years earlier.

It’s a thoughtful and intimate behind the scenes look at the philosophical preparation and the tedious rehearsal process involved in building a character leading up to a convincing performance on stage. 

Maria discovers that playing this older person strikes a little too close to home and is proving more challenging than she was prepared to deal with. She must now come to terms with her past, reliving the memories of an earlier time in her life while finding new meaning in the play and in her own life. 

The film also exposes some of the crazy and annoying situations that celebrities must contend with while being hounded by paparazzi, making it difficult to maintain a semblance of a normal life. 

Kristen Stuart is superb and gives such a natural subtle performance that she draws us in and transfixes us with her every word and gesture. She is the first American actress to have won France’s prestigious Cesar Award for her supporting role in this film.

Clouds of Sils Maria and While We’re Young are intriguing studies into the new challenges facing our generation, not only artists and filmmakers, but all of us who feel time and life slipping away, and how we will face the future while reconciling with our past.


No comments: