Saturday, 30 January 2016

The Intern



The Intern might be considered an example of a mature comedy, and this is refreshing. It’s relatively free of silliness (with one or two brief exceptions) and it’s certainly an example of a longing for maturity that I suspect runs pretty deep for all those who get past the age when video games and partying define the best of life. The movie seems to suggest that everyone should long to have De Niro as a father figure in their life because his character is pretty much flawless. You could even call him an archetype of maturity in the film, though this points out a few problems since it exposes a Hollywood bias toward a strong link between maturity and a stylish success. The mature man doesn’t only carry a handkerchief but has a powered tie rack in his walk-in closet. But to be fair, there are probably good Hollywood examples of blue collar or rural maturity out there as well.

The other strength/weakness is the film’s clear message promoting women’s leadership in the workplace. The heart is in the right place, but some scenes come across as subtly as if they were written by a feminist focus group. We get it – the outrageous obsession and success of Jules (Hathaway) does not mean that it’s her fault if some parts of her life don’t work. And clearly it is not ok to explore any nuances that would hint that anything should get in the way of the new, feminized American Dream. Still an enjoyable watch and mature comedies aren’t that easy to find, so it’s a somewhat generous *** from me.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

45 Years



Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay star as Kate and Geoff, a couple living in rural England who are preparing to celebrate their 45th anniversary when a letter arrives informing Geoff that the body of the German woman he was living with, before Kate, had been found in a block of ice, where she had fallen fifty years before. Geoff is listed as the woman’s next of kin, prompting a series of questions from Kate, who can’t believe she had never heard about this. The conversation continues as the couple prepare for the big party, revealing hidden feelings, more secrets and a struggle to communicate meaningfully even after 45 years of marriage.

The screenplay by Andrew Haigh (who also directed), is intelligent, insightful and nuanced, with a perfect ending. The wonderful performances by Rampling and Courtenay are beautifully understated. Between the writing and the acting, we have honest depths of character rarely achieved in cinema, resulting in a powerful, moving and haunting viewing experience.

The only reason I can’t give the almost-perfect 45 Years four stars is because I couldn’t relate well enough to either of the main characters to be as engaged as I would have liked (and this is meant to be a subjective review). So 45 Years gets a very solid ***+. My mug is up. 

Monday, 18 January 2016

Vic's Top Fifteen Films of 2015










After lengthy consideration, I have decided that, lame or not (see Walter’s Top Ten for the reference), I need to have a top-fifteen films list for 2015. I’ll begin by explaining why I feel this is necessary.

Thanks to the twenty films I watched at the Edmonton International Film Festival in early October, I watched far more new-release films in 2015 than in any previous year of my life. Prior to October, I’d have had a hard time finding even five films worthy of being included in my top ten films of 2015. But since the beginning of October, I have watched at least fifty 2015 films, almost half of them being foreign language films, and suddenly there was an explosion of top-ten-worthy films to choose from. 

[This is not to say that 2015 comes close to the greatness of 2014. It does not. If I created a top-thirty list of films released in either 2014 or 2015, most of my top fifteen films of 2014 would be in the top half of that list.]

Another problem I was facing is that a third of my top fifteen films were actually made in 2014. Most of these are considered eligible for 2015 due to their North American release dates, but at least one (my favourite of those) is considered a 2014 film. So I toyed with making a top-ten list for 2015 and then adding a top-five list of films made in 2014 but not released in Canada until 2015. That just felt too clumsy, but by then I was committed to including fifteen films, so here they are.

I still need to add three honourable mentions: 1) The Lobster, which has not yet been released, is a thought-provoking dystopian film from Ireland, made by Yorgos Lanthimos, that stars Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz as two people trying to break the rules; 2) My Internship in Canada, a Quebec comedy made by Philippe Falardeau. This was my second-favourite comedy of the year but is already dated (it satirized Stephen Harper and his government) and too obscure; 3) Bikes vs Cars, a documentary that resonated strongly with me because of its critical and timely message, but doesn’t possess the quality of filmmaking that is found on the rest of my list.

I also need to note that there are a number of excellent 2015 films I have not yet been able to watch, including Anomalisa, The Assassin and 45 Years, all three of which I still hope to watch this month (with potential changes to my top-fifteen list). 

Observations on the list below: Six of the films, including all of my top four films of the year, are foreign-language films, with two of the top four films set in Berlin. As in last year’s top-fifteen list, there’s only one film from Hollywood (Inside Out). Two of the films star Cate Blanchett and over half of the films feature a female protagonist (even without Star Wars and Mad Max).

Okay, here are my Top Fifteen Films of 2015, counting down from 15:

15. Truth: Lost in the spotlight of Spotlight, James Vanderbilt’s Truth was largely ignored by critics because it seemed to be a biased (leftist) retelling of a major blow to investigative journalism (2004 scandal involving George Bush’s military record which cost the impeccable Dan Rather his job). Such bias is just fine with me and the theme and message are absolutely vital in our world today. Truth has one of Cate Blanchett’s great performances of the year. 

14. Clouds of Sils Maria: Kristen Stewart delivers the best performance of the year as Val, personal assistant to Maria (Juliette Binoche), a famous actress who is asked to perform in the same play, about two women, in which she got her break, but this time in the role of the older woman. This film by Olivier Assayas is incredibly clever, deeply-layered and endlessly discussable.

13. Inside Out: Despite the unwelcome made-for-3D action scenes in the middle of the film, Pixar has another winner with Inside Out, which explores the inner workings of a child’s mind with intelligence, wisdom and endless humour. This animated film was written and directed by Pete Doctor and Ronnie del Carman.

12. Ex Machina: Walter’s favourite film of the year, Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a dark atmospheric sci-fi film about the dangers (and possibilities) of artificial intelligence, with brilliant performances by Oscar Issac, Domhnall Gleeson and Alicia Vikander. I do love spooky, intelligent and thought-provoking sci-fi films and this certainly qualifies.

11. Carol: Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are terrific as Carol and Therese, two women who fall in love with each other in 1951, a time when such relationships were scandalous and viewed as the product of serious psychological dysfunction. This gorgeous period drama about the struggle to be true to yourself was directed by Todd Haynes. 

10. The Salt of the Earth: Made by Wim Wenders and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, this beautiful (but also terrifying) documentary shares both the wisdom and the exquisite and otherworldly photographs of Sebastião Salgado, one of the world’s greatest photographers. A must-see in high definition.

9. Listen to Me Marlon: The best documentary I watched in 2015, this reflection on the life of Marlon Brando, one of the greatest actors in the history of film, is uniquely fascinating because Brando, who died in 2004, provides much of the narration himself (through audio tapes he left behind). Stevan Riley has done an amazing job of structuring this haunting insightful film. 

8. Spotlight:  A great ensemble cast play Boston Globe reporters in 2001 seeking to expose a major cover-up involving child abuse among Catholic priests. Directed (and co-written) by Tom McCarthy, Spotlight handles the investigation and subject with such quiet intelligence and integrity that it makes the work of investigative journalism the inspiring and vital thing it should be.

7. Youth: Italian director Paolo Sorrentino continues to make gorgeous and thoughtful films, often, as in this case, having older men reflecting on the meaning of life (or the lack thereof). Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel are perfectly-cast as the old men in question. Full of magical moments, Youth suggests that sometimes children can be wiser than people seventy years older.

6. Steve Jobs: Aaron Sorkin’s captivating and innovatively-structured screenplay, combined with Oscar-worthy performances from Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet, are what make Danny Boyle’s unique biopic about the man behind Apple so compelling.

5. Sicario: This film by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve (quickly becoming one of my favourite directors of all-time), is a dark and violent thriller about Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), an FBI agent who gets caught up in a CIA mission involving Mexican drug-lords and needs to deal with the morals of Alejandro (Benicio del Toro) and Matt (Josh Brolin), two men supposedly on the same side. A masterpiece that reflects on the question of whether the ends justify the means, Sicario gives us the strongest and most admirable gun-carrying female character of the year (better than Rey or Furiosa). 

4. Phoenix: This riveting German film from Christian Petzold stars Nina Hoss as a Jewish concentration-camp survivor who, after facial reconstruction surgery, returns to Berlin to look for her husband (who doesn’t recognize her). A haunting Hitchcockian period drama, Phoenix has layers of depth which can be discussed for hours.

3. Tangerines: An Estonian/Georgian collaboration directed by Zaza Urushadze, Tangerines is a profound but simple meditation on humanizing the enemy and the absurdity of war. This beautiful film takes place entirely on the property of two neighbours (one of whom grows tangerines while the other builds the crates to transport them) in the country of Georgia.

2. Leviathan: The most passionate, profound and thought-provoking film of the year (technically from 2014, but not in general release until 2015), Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan presents a scathing indictment of all levels of Russian government and the Russian Orthodox Church through its bleak tale of a man who loses everything (like Job, who provides the inspiration for the film). 

1. Victoria: The most intense and mesmerizing thrill-ride of the year (forget Mad Max), Sebastian Schipper’s Victoria is an awesome filmmaking achievement. Its 140 minutes, shot in Berlin during the early hours of the morning, are not just filmed in real time - they are filmed in just one shot (including numerous action scenes), as they follow the story of a young Spanish woman whose life changes in a hurry after she leaves a bar one night and is accosted by a group of friendly young men.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Walter's Top Ten for 2015



First, I’ll comment that I was going to copy Vic’s 2014 innovation of choosing a top fifteen on the excuse that the year was 2015. I was convincingly told that this was "lame." I’ll choose ten.

But I will begin with my honourable mentions. The Martian, Far from Men, Wild Tales and Tu Dors Nicole didn’t quite make the cut. Wild Tales is a collection of short films and they certainly take you for a ride, but taken as a whole (combined with the darkness of the stories), I couldn’t quite add it to my top ten. Tu Dors Nicole is particularly worthy of mention as a Quebecois film that is a lighter Canadian take at an arty Euro-style film. Definitely worth watching.  

Before naming my top ten, I’ll also point out that I haven’t yet seen Spotlight or Experimenter, both of which had good chances of making it if I had the chance to see them.

10. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. High school movies about dealing with illness are not the kind of movies that easily make my list. But this film struck a combination of wit and freshness (with an occasional stale lapse), sprinkled with appropriate seriousness that worked. A few thought-provoking ideas combined with the humour made it very worth watching.

9. Wildlike. I doubt this film made many top ten lists, but I thought this sensitive exploration of the challenges of responding to sexual abuse, set in the Alaskan wilderness, did a great job. It explores the push and pull of trust – of oneself and others – and when risks pay off and when they don’t. I thought the ending was handled well.

8. Good Kill. I’ll grant this film probably makes my list as much because I think the issue it explores is serious and urgent as because of the film’s quality itself. Ethan Hawke was perfect. The drone shots of North America interspersed through the film gave just the right sense of justified paranoia as a backdrop to the wake-up call of ongoing war crimes committed by the US.

7. Mistress America. Anyone who remembers my previous response to Baumbach’s films (I shut off Squid and the Whale and Greenberg – which I almost never do) will appreciate that this inclusion in my list marks a significant turning point. Baumbach (and Gerwig) opened the door with Frances Ha (which I enjoyed though I still felt like it had too much of Baumbach’s pointlessness in it). Mistress America, however, felt like it finally combined some of Baumbach’s skills (which Vic and my son, Daniel, kept insisting existed) with a story worth telling and intelligent humour that made it enjoyable. Finally there were Baumbach characters that I could actually engage with. As I wrote in my comment to Vic’s review, I appreciated the climax slipping into obvious farce as a presumably artistic point.

6. Citizenfour. I like to include at least one documentary, and I haven’t seen as many lately as I would like. But this was an eye-opening perspective that enabled a re-living of Snowden’s whistle-blowing disclosure. Feeling Snowden’s perfectly logical paranoia while it was unfolding was more powerful than most fictional dramas. Thoughtfully responding to this disclosure is still a conversation that most of North America has avoided.

5. Que Horas Ela Volta (The Second Mother). This Brazilian film is a strongly balanced exploration of the real challenges involved in responding to class inequalities where it strikes home most directly. The film perfectly draws you into the tension of empathizing with the mother and the daughter with their strengths and weaknesses – and their struggles to connect with each other. I found it gave me new insights for where its themes touched my own life, and I hope soon to watch this with others to see what discussions it can open up.

4. Timbuktu. For some reason, I’ve long had a fascination for the mysteries of Mali. Coincidentally, watching this film intersected with several other musical and visual representations of Mali. The film is very beautifully made (in spite of its realistic and disturbing context) and avoids providing any simplistic answers. The story is not quite as rich as the quality of the overall presentation, but it’s enough to ground the deep experience of watching this film.

3. Tangerines. (Not to be confused with Tangerine which is on a fair number of top ten lists.) I often appreciate films that have the feel of a classic dialogue-rich play. That is true of this film, though the dialogue is slow and sparse in a way that fits the story very well. This is a film about simplicity and symbolic action; it is a plea for recognizing our common humanity as deeper than regional hatreds and revenge.

2. The End of the Tour. Clearly this is not the kind of movie that is for everyone, but my experience of watching this was deeply engaging and thought-provoking. One could enjoy the layers of what was going on in the extended conversation at several levels simultaneously – intellectually, relationally, psychologically, etc. If you didn’t read the tag-team review that Vic and I wrote about this, see it here.

1. Ex Machina. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that this film has the kind of brilliance and creates the kind of film experience that deserves topping my list. I wrote a long and spoiler-filled review here (please don’t read it until you’ve seen the film unless you really don’t care). It’s well-acted, well-made, atmospheric, symbolic, question-raising, disturbing in the right ways, and my #1 for 2015.

Two tasks remain. First, leftovers from 2014: there were some great films that didn’t get the chance to make my top ten list last year because I don’t get to a theatre very often. Late additions that would have made my list: certainly Selma and Force Majeure, and possibly Leviathan. Wild and Imitation Game would have been considered but probably left out, and Birdman and Whiplash were interesting to watch but not contenders.

Finally, my annual spilled coffee list of disappointments: First special note should be made of Inside Out, which, though not at all a bad film, was such a disappointment to me. What on earth were they wasting their time on during that long, crazy adventure of trying to get home? It was a pointless shortage of creativity that distracted from what I had so hoped this film could be. I really cannot fathom the extent of the praise for it. Inherent Vice, Wish I Was Here, and Kingsman were examples of time wasted in front of a screen, though I didn’t make it through the first two. And the worst film of the year (that I saw) was Entourage– my watching it demonstrates the desperation one reaches on 14 hour flights. 

Friday, 15 January 2016

Listen to Me Marlon



Listen to Me Marlon is Gareth Higgins’ favourite film of 2015. That was more than enough reason for me to import the DVD from the UK (the film never made it to Winnipeg) so I could watch this extraordinary, brilliant biographical (and autobiographical) documentary on the life of Marlon Brando, one of the greatest actors in the history of film. 

Gareth has written a wonderful review of Listen to Me Marlon, so while I will say a few words here, I would encourage you to find his reviews of his fourteen favourite films of the year on the Movies & Meaning Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/meaningmovies/

Marlon Brando died in 2004 after a tumultuous life that included a lot of pain along with the good times. Brando was quite reclusive but made hundreds of hours of audio recordings which were shared with Stevan Riley, the director of Listen to Me Marlon. Most of the documentary’s narration (which includes a wide variety of clips featuring Brando in films and interviews) therefore comes from Brando himself. The result in not only endlessly fascinating (as we hear Brando talk about his life and share his thoughts on various issues) but also quite haunting. 

As we hear Brando talk (as ‘one of us’, as Gareth points out in his review), one of the lines that struck me was in an interview in which Brando was asked whether he primarily made films that contained a message he supported (he was keenly interested, and active, in various social justice issues). His answer was yes, but soon we see that, for a while at least, he made some awful films just for the money. 

To quote Gareth: “It’s clear that Brando wanted to make art that would aim at the truth about life; and that his own search for meaning was lonely. It’s also clear from his poorer choices that the best acting is that done to serve the story, rather than the ego - or bank balance - of the storyteller.”

Another highlight for me: While Brando’s difficulties with authority are well-known, Listen to Me Marlon provides layers of context for his anti-authoritarian ideas and behaviour. For film buffs and those who want to see a finely-crafted film about one person’s struggle to use his gifts to live a life with integrity, Listen to Me Marlon is not to be missed. ****. My mug is way up.



Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Big Short



We all know some of the history behind the 2008 financial crisis, but The Big Short (based on the book by Michael Lewis, which is based on actual events) takes us behind the scenes to provide the inside story of men who saw the crisis coming and took advantage of that fact, making countless millions (even billions) of dollars as a result.

Since I was furious (though hardly surprised) to learn about the fraud of big investment banks like Goldman Sachs which led to the financial crisis, I was looking forward to seeing another film that exposed that fraud and filled in more of the pieces. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to see that The Big Short suffered from the opposite problem of The Revenant: It told a great and vital story, but did not tell that story in a compelling way. 

An ensemble film, The Big Short, directed by Adam McKay, stars Christian Bale as Michael Burry, a mathematical genius who first identified the trend in defaulting mortgages which would lead to the financial meltdown (though almost no one believed him), Ryan Gosling as Jared Vennett from the Deutsche Bank, who suspected Burry was correct and decided to take advantage of it, Steve Carell as Mark Baum, a hedge fund manager who in turn believed Vennett’s predictions and Brad Pitt as Ben Rickert, who had left the investment profession because of its poor ethics but decided to help a couple of young investors, Charlie Geller and Jamie Shipley (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock) who also see the writing on the wall.

The acting is more than adequate, with the most notable performance coming from Bale (no surprise there), and the film’s beginning and ending are excellent (the last twenty minutes are worth the price of admission), but between the beginning and ending, the film’s quirky (often silly) comedic style gets in the way of the story and left me frustrated and bored. The cinematography was generally pathetic (part of the quirky style) and while some of the scenes were very funny, many others fell flat for me (and for the large audience around me), which was particularly disappointing in a film that might have been a classic.

I did very much appreciate the way The Big Short repeatedly came back to the way the financial crisis would impact the lives of average people around the globe (Ben Rickert gave a great little speech near the end of the film). Even more, I appreciated the way the film pointed to the ongoing financial crisis in the world today and the failure of the justice system to indict the criminals who caused the crisis as well as the failure of the financial institutions to learn from their mistakes (because if there is a way to make money, who cares about what happens to everyone else). 

The Big Short is a good film, but should have been much better (Margin Call and Inside Job are two much better films about the same crisis). Unfortunately, the desire to narrate the story with a unique style backfired (for me). I will still give The Big Short ***+ because of the importance of that story and because of its humanity. My mug us up.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

The Revenant



Winner of the Golden Globe Awards for Best Picture (Drama), Best Director and Best Actor (Drama), The Revenant is destined for multiple Oscar nominations (and some guaranteed wins) as well. Does it deserve all this acclaim?

Well, as a work of pure cinematic spectacle, it probably is the best film of the year (though Mad Max: Fury Road might want to make an argument; The Force Awakens needn’t bother). It is gorgeously filmed (I do love all those mountains and all that endless snow), has a great score, is clearly the work of a master director (Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu) and is primarily a raw, gut-wrenching epic survival (not revenge) tale (reminding me of Dances With Wolves). Add to that, you have magnificent performances from the key actors (Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy, with support from Domhnall Gleeson). So what’s not to love, you say?

I’m glad you asked. The big problem with The Revenant is its story. Based (yet again) on true events, The Revenant is set in 1823 Montana and South Dakota and tells the story of Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a fur trapper working with a quasi-military hunting party who gets mauled by a grizzly bear and is basically left for dead. There’s much more to it, but I don’t want to have any spoilers here (depending on your definition, you may not want to trust me on this). Glass, of course, somehow manages to survive (spoiler?) and then, near the end of the film, you have the nasty revenge part of the story (spoiler?). That nasty revenge is certainly distasteful to me, and a sufficient reason not to like The Revenant, but it's not the heart of the problem. That heart is found in the way the subject (victim?) of that revenge is portrayed.

The subject of that revenge is a fellow trapper by the name of John Fitzgerald (Hardy), the film’s baddie who is painted worse and worse as the film progresses, so that viewers will feel a visceral vicarious pleasure at the villain’s vicious and inevitable demise (come on, that's no spoiler). When you combine that problem with a bleak tale that fails to explore or challenge the endless male-focused violence that occurs throughout, you do not, in my opinion, have a film worthy of Best Picture. I can’t even think seriously of giving it ***+, though much of The Revenant is worth it. So a solid *** it is. My mug is up, but don’t drink unless you have a strong stomach.

NOTE: I was reminded that, given DiCaprio's acceptance-speech remarks about the Indigenous peoples in The Revenant, I should make some comment about this. Yes, in spite of the fact that Indigenous people were shown to be as violent (or more so) as the white people, there was certainly an attempt to be respectful to Indigenous peoples, even to the extent that the leader of the tribe that was constantly fighting the white hunters gave a short speech in which he correctly blamed the white people for stealing their land, their animals and their way of life.

Trivia: I found it fascinating that in this second big Tom Hardy film of the year (Mad Max being the first), it is the other major character (played by DiCaprio) having flashbacks of his family suffering an attack.

Monday, 11 January 2016

The Salt of the Earth



Wow!

I just watched my favourite documentary of 2015 (nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary of 2014). Not having had the chance to see it at the cinema (where it should be seen), I finally got it on Blu-ray  (don’t even THINK of watching it on DVD) thanks to Gareth’s recommendation.

The Salt of the Earth was made by Wim Wenders (great German filmmaker) and Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, the son of the documentary’s subject: Sebastião Salgado. Salgado is one of the world’s greatest photographers and has spent much of his life travelling around the world creating photo essays/projects (usually spending years on one project). At first, his projects were about exploring the human condition (he was called a social photographer) as he sought to understand what was happening in the places where people were suffering. So Salgado travelled to places where people were suffering from war, famine, harsh work conditions, etc., including a significant project on refugees (in the 1990’s), which is an even greater problem today, taking thousands of heartbreaking photographs. 

After years of seeing how humanity is capable of creating so much horror and suffering, especially through the utter madness of war, Salgado turned to photographing nature and became a champion of reversing the damage humans have done to nature. The Brazilian valley in which he grew up had lost all its vegetation and wildlife, so Salgado and his wife created an organization to regrow the forest that had originally been there. It is now a National Park. 

The Salt of the Earth tells Salgado’s story by sharing hundreds of his B&W photographs with Salgado’s commentary and by having Wenders and Juliano talk about Salgado’s life. This is not so much a film about photography as it is a film about life on planet earth as seen through the eyes of one of the world’s greatest photographers.

No words can adequately describe the haunting beauty of Salgado’s photographs. To me, they feel surreal or otherworldly, as if they are work of sci-fi artists showing life on a distant planet. The other words which came to me to describe Salgado’s photos and the film as a whole were: gorgeous, horrific, inspiring, terrifying, breathtaking, depressing, optimistic, pessimistic; but, above all, moving, humanizing and thought-provoking. 

The Salt of the Earth is a very difficult film to watch because so many of its images are so disturbing they can only be called horrific. But it’s only rated PG (that makes no sense to me). In any event, it’s an absolute must-see (on Blu-ray of HD) if you can handle the content. An easy ****. My mug is up. 

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Clouds of Sils Maria



I missed this one at the cinema, where it played for only a couple of weeks, and waited much too long to watch the DVD. I have made repeated reference to the incredible quality of the acting in the films I have watched in recent weeks. But the acting in Clouds of Sils Maria, which was written and directed by Olivier Assayas, outshines them all. Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche were jaw-droppingly good. Stewart, in particular, blew me away with her perfect natural performance as Val, the personal assistant (PA) of Maria (Binoche), a famous actor (Binoche, also very good, didn’t blow me away because I have come to expect such performances from her). 

Val and Maria are in Switzerland, where Maria has been persuaded to take the role of Helena in a dark play about the relationship between two women (Helena and her PA Sigrid). In the play, the vulnerable Helena is taken advantage of by the young Sigrid with whom she has fallen in love. When Sigrid dumps her, Helena commits suicide. Maria rose to fame twenty years earlier by playing Sigrid. Now she has difficulty coming to terms with playing the older woman, whom she sees as weak. As Val rehearses the play with Maria by playing Sigrid, a new layer is added to the story. Yet another layer comes into play when Jo-Ann (Chloë Grace Moretz), the young woman who will play Sigrid, meets Maria while in a complicated relationship with a married man.

The screenplay of Clouds of Sils Maria is the most intelligent I have seen this year. Along with the brilliantly-layered relationships, there are all kinds of remarks (some scathing) about the film industry and Hollywood as well as profound observations about aging and the constant need to reinvent ourselves and let go of the past as we get older. If anything, the screenplay may be a little too clever for its own good, coming at the expense of a more engaging story.

I was a little disappointed that the style of cinematography didn’t quite do justice to the gorgeous  landscape, which is a key part of the story (note the similarities between this film, with its long conversations in the Swiss Alps, and Youth, also set in the Swiss Alps, and also with long conversations between two people about the theme of aging). But all of my complaints are minor, as Clouds of Sils Maria slips over the line into ****. My mug is up.