Review: Pasolini (2014)

Director: Abel Ferrara

***

This review was originally published on Scannain.com

Pier Paolo Pasolini lived an infamous life, made many infamous films and died an infamous death. Of course, you’d expect no less from a gay Marxist who adapted both the New Testament and the Marquis de Sade for the big screen. As a biopic of a filmmaker, Pasolini achieves two great coups: it doesn’t shy away from the scandals that its subject actively pursued, and it ably mirrors his style and filmmaking eccentricities. Whether that manifests into a cohesive whole is debatable, but the late Italian’s influence looms in every frame.

If anyone had to direct a film about the life (or death) of Pier Paolo Pasolini, few would seem as well qualified as Abel Ferrara. They would appear to be kindred spirits; though their moral viewpoints might have differed, both are concerned with the point at which flesh, violence and faith intersect. Indeed, Pasolini fits very neatly into Ferrara’s filmography, sitting well alongside the chilly elegance of the likes of King Of New York or The Addiction and the portrait of moral corruption offered by recent fare like Welcome To New York. If it isn’t quite up to those film’s standards, it’s not for lack of trying. Pasolini is nothing if not ambitious.

The film opens with Pasolini (Willem Dafoe) giving an interview to French journalists whilst they all watch a French dub of the newly-finished Saló. They ask him what his title is; director, screenwriter, dialogist. Pasolini responds that he is simply a writer. This interview is lifted almost wholesale from his last recorded interview (Watch it here), and there’s a sense of fatalism to his bearing, both in reality and in this film, as if he knows his time is running out. Pasolini shares this pessimism, but not to an extent that it becomes overly dour. Pasolini himself was not so; Willem Dafoe may seem like stunt casting given his physical resemblance to the director, but he magnificently inhabits a man defined by a quiet sense of mischief. The role calls for intelligence, a sense of humour and a certain world-weariness, and Dafoe balances all these demands in a terrific interpretation. Dafoe’s distinct American twang is but one of many languages and accents that clash here, but such consistency isn’t the hallmark of Pasolini’s films, so it’s unlikely he’d have minded.

Though primarily set around the last day of Pasolini’s life (2nd November 1975), there are flashbacks to formative moments (political influences and youthful sexual dalliances) to fill in gaps as Ferrara attempts to link the man’s past to the politics of his present. Even more daring are attempts to dramatize scenes from Pasolini’s unproduced screenplay Porno-Teo-Kolossal, which is as confrontational and offbeat as one would expect. DoP Stefano Falivene paints pitch-black nights and muted sunshined days, shot with a crispness that few of Pasolini’s films enjoyed. Indeed, the surface sheen could be accused of dulling Pasolini‘s edge a little. His films felt truly anarchic, a luxury which Pasolini affords itself only to a point.

Maurizio Braucci’s screenplay offers a believable account of the man’s last day, channeling Pasolini’s way of writing and shooting into a film that can feel haphazard in the way it’s told. As with the languages, we’re constantly swapping between plotlines and ideas as the man himself might have done. Pasolini will be best appreciated by fans of its subject’s work. Newcomers might also get a good idea of what he’s about, but its admirable refusal to cleave to a true story template means it might alienate. In short, it sells Pasolini to a tee. Cinema’s greatest scandaliser would have expected no less.

Review: Miss Julie (2014)

Director: Liv Ullman

*

This review was originally published on Scannain.com

How can Miss Julie fail? August Strindberg’s tale of cross-class sexual politics is knee-deep in flirtations and commentary, boasts three fine actors and a stunning Northern Irish locale for a setting. And yet, fail it does. Liv Ullman’s adaptation robs the film of almost all erotic urgency. Not only is it a lesson in how not to adapt a play, it’s a lesson on how not to put on a play, period. Such is its turgidness; it’s a cautionary tale for all the wrong reasons.

Strindberg’s 1888 masterwork is seen as one of the great naturalistic stage plays, focusing on its characters deepest torments and allowing the actors little frivolity or theatricality. Adherence to this kind of naturalism is admirable on stage, but it doesn’t quite cry out for a cinematic adaptation. Miss Julie has come to the big screen a number of times before (For best results, try Alf Sjöberg’s 1951 adaptation); like any adaptation, Ullman’s take needs to bring something new to the table to stand out. It brings precisely nothing, and ultimately undermines the fine material and performers by reducing it all to a snooze. The tale of John (Colin Farrell), a manservant to the father of Miss Julie (Jessica Chastain), and his flirtatious verbal sparring with her, is ripe with insight. Apart from John’s engagement to fellow servant Kathleen (Samantha Morton), the limitations of class structures are constantly rallied against, as lusts bubble under John’s rebuttal of Julie’s inappropriate flirtations. Yet the way Ullman shoots it stifles the mood, all long shots and barebones close-ups. A good director would find a way to overcome the stagebound nature of the play, but the most Ullman can offer are frequent interruptions by Schubert’s ‘Andante con Moto’, which quickly become as grating as the abuse of Ligeti’s piano in Eyes Wide Shut. Static rooms, bland lighting and unimaginative camera sound a dull death knell for Miss Julie’s intrigue, against which the three leads rally, but even they cannot overcome.

Material like this catnip to any actor worth their salt. It’s a testament to the skills of these actors that they excuse themselves from Ullman’s monotony with fiery performances. Any pleasure to be derived from this film is from these three alone. In the role of the the tempestuous title character, the fiery-haired Chastain mixes sensuality with aloofness to create a character both alluring and dangerous. Farrell matches her with an intense brooding indicative of his maturing as an actor in recent years. Morton’s role is the smallest (in relative terms), but is still a class in quiet obedience and heartbreak. Miss Julie is a worthwhile exercise for all three; if it were possible to see them reprise their roles on stage, it may well prove electrifying. In Ullman’s hands, unfortunately, the trio are reduced to a battle for onscreen survival; the film robs them of dramatic oxygen, leaving their fine performances adrift in a vacuum. Rarely is so much onscreen talent wasted quite so badly.

Review: The Salt of the Earth (2014)

Directors: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado

****

This review was originally published on Scannain.com.

Early on in The Salt of the Earth, the photography of Sebastião Salgado is described as ‘drawing with light’. All visual art can be reduced to a manipulation of light, but it’s that sense of artistry upon artistry, a drawing extracted from photography, that distinguishes Salgado’s work. Anyone who’s viewed his many collections and exhibitions cannot but feel moved. The interplay of black and white in Salgado’s work occasionally seems otherworldly, like breathing charcoal sketches. Yet real they are, and given extra power by an overwhelming humanity. Salgado is a documentarian in images, and his travels have taken him to the most awe-inspiring sights and the most painful of human sufferings. This breadth and depth is brought to the big screen by Salgado’s own son Juliano and no less a collaborator than Wim Wenders.

Wenders seems tailor-made for a project like The Salt of the Earth. Besides being an acclaimed photographer in his own right (with exhibitions still on tour), he has amassed notable experience in documenting and celebrating worthy artists. However, this may be the most personal documentary project Wenders has undertaken since Tokyo-Ga, his 1985 documentary on Yasujirô Ozu. Buena Vista Social Club was as much a snapshot of Cuba as it was of the titular group, while Pina was arguably more concerned with the art than the artist (Fair enough; as an art form, dance is underserved by recent filmmaking, so Wenders’ 3D experience let the dance do the talking). In The Salt of the Earth, as with Tokyo-Ga, Wenders is exploring an artist at a personal level. Salgado is the subject, his work simply a necessary adjunct.

Many may be familiar with Salgado’s stark photography, but the film starts where Salgado started, with a very humble upbringing in rural Brazil. Salgado achieved a Master’s degree in economics, but just as we get to that, Wenders interjects with footage of Salgado shooting Tuareg nomads and New Guinean tribes. The relative comfort afforded to Salgado by his education melts away to reveal the wonders that would seduce him to photography. The tribesmen handle and poke Salgado’s camera with a primeval curiosity, before Salgado aims his camera right back at the camera filming him. In this moment, the urge to document human nature thus links both cameras, and both men behind the cameras. In Salgado, Wenders identifies a kindred spirit and a kindred eye, seeking out the remarkable. Wenders’ narration often seems in awe of that eye, even before we get to the major collections.

The Salt of the Earth draws a quiet power from Salgado’s photographs. His earliest and best-known collection, taken at the gold mine in Serra Palada in Brazil, is a striking exemplar of his work. As thousands ascend dangerously high ladders out of the ground, the stark black-and-white photographs simultaneously marvel at the feats of our labours and reduce our earth-moving efforts to the scale of ants. Despite the varied subjects of his collections, whether documenting the plight of refugees (Exodus) or famine and disease in sub-Saharan Africa (Sahel), there’s a collision between humanity’s frailty and majesty that moves so deeply. Wenders and Salgado do right by the work, letting the art speak for itself.

This unshowy approach can make The Salt of the Earth seem conventional, especially compared to the necessary exuberance of Pina. It’s a relatively calm portrait of a man whose passion manifests itself in his photography. As an active participant in this retelling, Salgado is a mellow but honest subject. Some may be frustrated that Salgado isn’t more revealing about his work’s effect on him, but that plays into both his and Wenders’ aims. The photographs convey enough emotion on their own to convey Salgado’s feelings; the images are harrowing enough, so the reality could not but feel worse. It also lends catharsis to the later chapters, as Wenders documents Salgado and his family’s conservation work at their nature reserve, the Instituto Terra, back in the Brazilian forests. As Salgado himself describes it, the land heals his soul.The Salt of the Earth determinedly carries a sense of healing and hope, even through the harshest of tragedies, as captured by its subject. Art reveals much about our human nature, and Wenders’ documentary excels in doing this on scales both personal and all-encompassing.

Review: P’tit Quinquin (2014)

Director: Bruno Dumont

****

This review originally appeared on Scannain.com.

The theatrical release of Bruno Dumont’s four-part TV mini-series P’tit Quinquin was named the best film of 2014 by no less than Cahiers du Cinéma magazine. On the surface, it seems like an odd choice; Cahiers was the birthplace of auteur theory, but P’tit Quinquin is the first comedy for a director known for his unflinching explorations of the violent side of human emotionality (See his previous effort, Camille Claudel 1915, for proof). Scratch beyond the surface tics, and you’ll see what appealed to the Cahiers writers. Despite its young protagonist, Clouseau-esque antagonist and appetite for farce, P’tit Quinquin is none more Dumont, packing its ample 200 minutes with bizarre acts of violence and all-too-real portraits of rural life. Farmers, lock up your cows: Dumont est arrivé!

From the first sight of our young lead, it’s clear we’re firmly in Dumont-land. The rural terrain of northern France is full of distinct faces, but none more so than that of our pint-sized hero Quinquin. In casting the role, part of the appeal of Alain Delhaye for Dumont had to be his surly look. His face, aged by an off-centre upper lip, conveys an exasperation not meant for one so young. His scowl sits in rigid permanence amongst a wave of chaos that’s about to hit the farming community in which he lives.

It doesn’t take much to rock a small community’s spirit, but a murder ought to do the trick, especially when the victim was dismembered and the parts were then stuffed inside a cow. Welcome to the Bruno Dumont comedy! Those odd faces so beloved of Dumont are left reeling, but Quinquin and his pals are enjoying the attention. When was the last time a helicopter came to their sleepy town, let alone carry a whole cow across the sky? Leading the investigation is Detective Van der Weyden. This intelligent-but-bumbling cop owes a debt to Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther escapades, but the exaggerated facial tics of the performance from Bernard Pruvost (another non-professional recruit to the Dumont-ian cause) lend him a memorability all his own. Indeed, his OTT gestures contrast with Delhaye’s comparatively stoic expression to enhance the inherent oddness in these character’s locale, where children and adults could be interchangeable. Van der Weyden is accompanied by Lieutenant Carpentier (Phillippe Jore) on his investigations. Each is distinctly haggard and befuddled, but their two heads together won’t see all the clues that Quinquin and his friends can. A relative lack of adult supervision (Quinquin’s parents are glimpsed relatively rarely) has led them to develop their own views and tics.

Get past the slicing and dicing and cow violations, and Dumont’s critical gaze is firmly fixed on small-town parochialism and small-mindedness. The writer-director came from a rural background of similar ilk, so he knows his subject. His observations come with a calmness and unshowy eye that helps overcome any accusations of being contrarian or harsh purely for the sake of just being so. This world feels lived in, genuinely tangible. Whether by design or the constraints of the television format, Dumont established a reality that accentuates P’tit Quinquin’s satire. The most apt comparison one could make is to Father Ted, with its takedowns of commonplace rituals and prejudices. The priestly sitcom isn’t as dark as P’tit Quinquin but there’s a common gene for poking fun in their DNA. An early funeral for one of the murder victims seals the deal on this comparison. Quinquin makes a joke of his duties as an altar boy, the middle-aged priest alternates between over-zealousness and corpsing, while the local talented teen shows her lack thereof with a brilliantly out-of-place performance of pop ballad as a hymn. These are archetypes, but they’re knowable enough to transcend accusations of cruelty. That may be harder to defend in Dumont’s use of disabled characters (most notably Quinquin’s uncle), but there’s never a sense that he’s mocking any of his characters, simply the world and viewpoints they’ve come to inhabit and espouse. Over the course of 200 minutes, we see racial, romantic and class tensions come to the fore. It’s a rare mystery that boasts red herrings as intriguing as the murders themselves. At one point, Carpentier compares the crimes to the murderous tendencies at the heart of Zola’s novel La Bête humaine (Also the title of one of P’tit Quinquin’s episodes). Van der Weyden rebuffs him, saying “We’re not here to philosophize.” Pity he feels that way; it might lead them to the answers faster.

Going into P’tit Quinquin and expecting a straightforward mystery is a fool’s errand. Dumont is clearly a Twin Peaks fan (though he claimed never to have watched it, so draw your own conclusions); both series let the mystery give way to the foibles and darkest recesses of human nature. Of course, both David Lynch and Dumont have made careers out of these explorations, but the latter has never done so with such a sense of fun as in P’tit Quinquin. One can only hope that when Dumont shuffles off this mortal coil, he dies laughing. Cow coffin optional.

Review: Queen and Country (2014)

Director: John Boorman

***

This review was originally published on Scannain.com. Read my interview with director John Boorman here.

At one point in Queen and Country, a character admits to infidelities past and explains them thus: “It was the war. We all did silly things.” With Queen and Country, John Boorman paints a portrait of a country and a family still paying the price for such silly things, war being the silliest of all things, and that family being his own.

Queen and Country, for all its militaristic trappings, is a largely joyous and gentle affair. It invokes the spirit of its predecessor, Boorman’s 1987 triumph Hope and Glory, not least by opening with that film’s closing scene. Besides sharing characters, both films find the simple pleasures amidst the harshness of militaristic reality. This time around, reality is coloured many shades of green, from the prefabricated army sheds to the hard-wearing uniforms. Amongst the cadets is the young hero of Hope and Glory, Billy Rohan (Callum Turner). Nine years on from his Blitz-scarred childhood, Boorman’s cinematic alter ego has been conscripted, as Her Majesty’s Finest prepare to battle the Red Menace in Korea. Billy trains new recruits in typing, alongside his pal and fellow conscript Percy (Caleb Landry Jones, chewing on his accent). These close friends compliment each other; Billy’s the handsome upstanding chap with a cheeky grin whilst Percy is a perpetual japester, inspired/egged on by another skiver, Pat Shortt’s Pvt. Redmond. Queen and Country is a film about relationships, whether it’s the camaraderie between troops or the flirtations that lead to first romance.

It’s a testament to Boorman’s life that even the most outlandish of events in Queen and Country turn out to be largely true. Billy begins a relationship with Ophelia (Tamsin Egerton), a society girl who enjoys the arrival of this lower-class lad, but gives no hint their liaison will actually go anywhere. We’re keen to see how this unlikely romance will end, if only for Billy’s sake. In his feature debut, Turner is a magnetic leading man, by turns charming, intense and vulnerable. His skills are put to the test by a script that hops back and forth between many plots and moods across its ample 114-minute runtime. Two main plotlines define the scenes at the military base. Billy’s pacifistic opinions and influence see him charged with military sedition, while Percy has stolen a prize clock from the sergeant’s mess, and the camp is turned upside-down in an effort to trace it. Boorman’s script never manages to gel this battle between lighter and darker tones together, thus robbing the film as a whole of a defining throughline. His direction, on the other hand, keeps the film from flitting from the mind entirely. Aided by the film’s production design and cinematography, Boorman creates a definitive sense of place and time. Hope and Glory offered a template for British nostalgia fiction that Terence Davies subsequently perfected. Queen and Country runs by the Davies playbook (detailed design, relatively un-starry casts), but it lacks the backbone of something like Distant Voices, Still Lives.

Billy won’t be posted to Korea, but his battles rage on the home front. Tapping the nostalgia vein for all its worth, the film works best when Billy faces more personal demons. His viewpoints, as exposed by his being court-martialed, lead him into conflict with hard-nosed Sgt. Bradley (David Thewlis, in arguably the film’s best performance), whose own experiences haunt him yet. Meanwhile, his visits to the idyllic family home on the Thames sees gently-boiling issues slowly manifest themselves. Running concurrent with the buildup to Elizabeth II’s coronation, Queen and Country pitches Billy as a symbol of Britain shaking off the burdens of war, to mixed effect. As Billy’s father (David Hayman) warns, “Do not underestimate the power of tradition.” Yet, for something that deals with that stark clash of old and new, Queen and Country is perhaps too idyllic a reflection to wholly grapple with the issue. Still, it’ll doubtlessly make prime Sunday afternoon viewing (accompanied by cake and tea, of course) in years to come. How very old-fashioned.

Review: Listen Up Philip (2014)

Director: Alex Ross Perry

**

This review was originally published on Scannain.com

Throughout Listen Up Philip, not once does Philip listen. It’s a pity, because you’ll wish Philip Lewis Friedman (Jason Schwartzman) would just shut his overly-opinionated gob. He doesn’t, and thus he drags some ripe filmmaking materials down into the vortex of hate that is created around, and by, this character. We hate Philip, so we hate Listen Up Philip. Shut up, Philip!

Is it fair to judge a film solely on its hateful leading man? Even if it’s not, Listen Up Philip warrants an exception. Right from the start, his bitter brand of self-aggrandisement gets in the way of forming any connection. The opening scene sees well-heeled and acclaimed author Philip run into an old girlfriend (Samantha Jacober). They start discussing his new book, but it basically turns into a session of boasting and chastising for Philip. The 100-odd minutes that follow proceed in much the same fashion. Alex Ross Perry’s film could have been a worthy exploration of artistic temperament and alienation, but Perry has shot himself in the foot in one crucial way: he’s made a character piece centred on a character no-one wants to be around. Granted, Schwartzman has played variants of this kind of irritability before (think of Max Fischer’s over-confidence in Rushmore), but this is a new level of hatefulness, spiralling from controlled ego into full-on asshole-ry. Bugger off, Philip!

Philip is on the cusp of publishing his second novel, Obidant, and his ego is becoming more fragile, and thus his demeanour becomes more prickly, to the detriment of all around him and the audience. First in the firing line is Elisabeth Moss’ Ashley, who Philip has somehow convinced to stay around long enough to earn the title of long-term girlfriend, but even she acknowledges he’s “a cruel, miserable person.” Declarations like this are when Listen Up Philip earns its few laughs, because this grown-up problem child deserves all the scorn he can get. There’s no respite from his largely-monotone poison. Aided and abetted by Eric Bogosian’s bone-dry voiceover, Schwartzman spends most of the film looking his nose down at people, and repelling them with bile. He’s crushingly, boringly unlikeable. That writer/director Perry would think this would be an interesting lead character simply boggles the mind. WTF, Philip?!

Mercifully, and despite what our protagonist might like to think, he’s not the centre of the universe. Philip befriends Ike Zimmerman (Jonathan Pryce), a Philip Roth-alike who invites Philip to use his home in upstate New York as a country retreat for writing. We get to know Zimmerman a bit, and he proves to be the most interesting role Pryce has had onscreen in a while. He’s almost as bitter as Philip, but his ego and bitterness is at least partly justified by experience and success, plus a dose of moral turpitude on his part (Krysten Ritter shows up for a brief-but-welcome spell as a resentful Zimmerman Jr.). Meanwhile, Perry also allows us to spend a little time with Ashley and her adjusting to life while Philip’s away. She must be a masochist to even feel a little guilty about enjoying it, but let’s be thankful either Philip or the script allow her to breathe. Aside from her adorable feline companion Gadzuki, Moss probably comes out best from this; stylistically she’s far from Peggy Olson here, but there’s still a blend of naïveté and grit to Ashley that marks her as the warmest character in this film by a country mile. Couldn’t we make the film about her instead? Stay away, Philip!

The production values of Listen Up Philip add to the irritation, as they feel like choices Philip himself might have made. Keegan DeWitt’s jazzy score could soundtrack a thousand chin-stroking dinner parties, while Sean Price Williams’ cinematography is afraid to keep more than four feet away from its subjects, with self-aware filtering by Instagram. Listen Up Philip plays like bizarro Hal Ashby. It’s self-consciously chintzy and aged, and populated by egos so sour, they were probably born with lemon wedges in their mouths. Its prime distinction is that it has birthed the most repugnant lead character in recent American cinema. The fact that he shares his name with this reviewer does nothing to redeem it. Oh, **** off, Philip!

Review: Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)

Director: Olivier Assayas

*****

This review was originally published on Scannain.com

Binoche. Stewart. Moretz. The posters for Clouds of Sils Maria blare these names. They seem unlikely bedfellows, but that’s exactly the point. Why shouldn’t Chloe Grace Moretz get to star alongside Juliette Binoche? So much baggage gets in the way. Moretz makes Kick-Ass 2 and Carrie, and Binoche worked with Kieslowski, Kiarostami and Haneke. We know this, and director Olivier Assayas knows we know this. There’s a lot of knowing here; the film is so arch it’s a wonder it doesn’t sprain an eyebrow. Films about filmmaking are summarily dismissed as self-important at best, masturbatory at worst (The same accusers tend to forget about Singin’ In The Rain, which almost single-handedly dismisses their arguments, but we digress). Clouds of Sils Maria is treading on familiar ground, but Assayas isn’t being flippant. We’ve seen the kind of work these women can do, so Assayas brings them together to compare and contrast.

Binoche plays Maria Enders, a 40-something actress being courted to star in a stage production of a play entitled Maloja Snake. She’s been asked to play the role of a businesswoman losing control because of her desire for a young manipulative intern. The intern role made Maria’s career two decades before, so the novelty of her playing the older role peaks interest, like the three names juxtaposed on the film poster. With Moretz’s rehab-ed ingenue Jo-Ann taking the intern role, the opportunities for conflict are set in place. We first meet Enders on a train to Switzerland, where she and her accompanying assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) are travelling to accept an award on behalf of Wilhelm Melchior, Maria’s mentor and writer of Maloja Snake. As Maria resolves to avoid projects with prolonged bouts of greenscreen work, and the pair bemoan the rumour mill (“I thought we agreed we hated the Internet.”), Assayas’ film never stops winking at its audience. Sharing with screen with Binoche, one of the greats of her generation, is perennial punchline Kristen Stewart. The girl is aiming high; she needs to if she’s going to escape her typecast rut. People forget that Twilight was a laughable phenomenon before being adapted for the screen, so her soppy Bella can’t be blamed on the actress alone. Clouds Of Sils Maria is proof that she can act; Valentine’s practicality is a stark contrast to Maria’s’ intensity and Jo-Ann’s aloofness, and it requires Stewart to walk a line between human anchor and ethereal guide. Is she conscious, or merely a conscience? There’s an ambiguity to Valentine’s role in Assayas’ script that may frustrate some viewers, with a second act turn-about that will divide opinion, but Stewart’s turn keeps us on side regardless.

Despite being shot in English, the film has been made far away from Hollywood influence. Glamour is in steady supply from co-financiers Chanel, but initial style segues into earthier domesticity as Maria and Valentine retreat to the Sils Maria in the Alps to rehearse Maloja Snake, as well as to watch the cloud formation from which the play gets its name. As rehearsals go on, tensions come to the fore. Valentine proves both a capable foil and companion to Maria, with hints of jealousy, desire and cabin fever creeping in. Thematic comparisons will be readily drawn to All About Eve or Mulholland Drive, but they do Sils Maria no favours. It’s too rich and warmly made to be readily lumped in with any one film. Besides, neither Valentine nor Jo-Ann are a threat to Maria; her issues stem from her own passing years. The perils for actresses over 40 slipping through the cracks were recently covered in The Congress (with only a modicum of success), but this film grasps a nettle with little to cloud the message. Nominally, the film is a golden ticket to the likes of Stewart and Moretz. The latter is another young actress suffering from over-exposure, albeit with plenty proof she can deliver. She pastiches her own image in a role which overrides her inherent squeaky-cleanliness, veering between harassed and hellcat. That said, the heart of the film is Binoche, who delivers another typically marvellous performance, by turns elegant, brittle and oddly pathetic. Her screams are piercing, her laughs infectious. The fact that 51-year-old Binoche is playing a role written for a 40-year-old suggests a hopefulness on Assayas’ part. Is 51 the new 40 for actresses? Is it getting easier for actresses for maintain their careers as the years go on? We can hope so. In any case, Clouds of Sils Maria is the most wonderfully self-reflexive piece of filmmaking in recent memory. Assayas’ typically bold and intelligent picture covers a lot of prevalent themes and manages to express them vividly. The message might be obvious, but we can’t really complain when Assayas hits his target right on the nose.