Olivier Assayasí Clouds of Sils Maria gets a Blu-ray upgrade after recently receiving a DVD-only release from Paramount. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on a dual-layer disc in 1080p/24hz high-definition. Itís based on a 2K scan of the original 35mm negative.
The film is only a couple of years old so unsurprisingly the image looks very good. Itís a sharp image that delivers the finer details and textures easily, depth looks good, and the filmís colours look rich and vibrant. A sequence later in the film featuring a superhero movie within this movie showcases some particularly brilliant looking colours and fairly bright whites without any blooming (Iím guessing this sequence was actually shot digitally though I canít say for sure). Black levels are strong but I found crushing to be a bit of an issue in the filmís darker scenes. The titled clouds that we get a few shots of look natural as they float through the peaks, and I didnít notice any artifacts or banding. The encode in general looks to be very good.
As expected damage isnít a concern at all (except within silent film footage that appears in the film). The image looks natural and clean, moving smoothly, ultimately delivering that film-like look I like to see, but again, considering how new the film is this wasnít a big surprise. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
The film comes with a 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround track and for what is a ďtalkyĒ film it manages to do a lot with its sound design. The film immediately opens on a train, Kristen Stewartís character doing dealings over multiple phones. Thereís a lot of activity going on in this sequence, with not only Stewart trying to juggle multiple calls but the scene has the train veering down the tracks, clacking along, whizzing by exterior object, all while the cabin shifts about, jiggling objects around. This is a beautifully mixed sequence that nicely showcases your set-up. The viewer is basically placed in the middle of the scene, with all of this chaos happening around them, and I thought it was nicely mixed and directed to capture the environment. Also, the volume levels are nicely controlled so we donít lose anything that Stewart says when itís important.
The rest of the film isnít as active, but there are plenty of crowded gatherings where all of the speakers work together to place the viewer in the middle of the action. Exterior shots also present nice mixes, particularly the various hikes where you hear plenty of ambient sounds in nature from insects chirping to the wind rustling. The music in the film also nicely envelopes the viewer, sounding rich and pure, and the track as a whole is clean and rich, with no noticeable damage or background noise. Itís a very pleasing, very effective surround presentation. 9/10
The film received a DVD-only, barebones edition from Paramount last year, much to the surprise of many, but here it is now on Blu-ray from Criterion. Iím guessing IFC, possibly in hopes of capitalizing on Kristen Stewart being in the film, wanted to get the film out on video as quickly as possible and Paramount was able to do this while Criterion worked on their edition (a similar thing is happening with Richard Linklaterís Boyhood, which as of now has received a Paramount DVD and Blu-ray release and Linklater has confirmed Criterion will release it in the future). Iím guessing the arrangement that happened with Blue is the Warmest Color, where Criterion would release a barebones release and then a special edition later (that still hasnít materialized), didnít work out.
At any rate, because of that I guess I was expecting a stacked release of some sort but I was shocked to see that ultimately itís just two interview segments, one featuring director Olivier Assayas and then the other featuring actors Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart. Theyíre at least fairly lengthy, running 38-minutes each.
Assayas gives the backstory to this film, which was born out of the desire both he and Binoche had to work together again. They had initially worked together on Andrť Tťchinťís Rendez-vous, which got Binoche a lot of attention, and was one of Assayasí first credits, though as writer (interestingly we get a lot of clips from the film but they look to be sourced from a DVD). It was from that that the idea behind the story for Clouds of Sils Maria was born, about an actor, in this case played by Binoche, coming back to an early play she had worked on and being forced to look at it and its characters through the perspectives of the current, younger generation. Itís actually quite interesting the influences that really play into this film and Assayas does go over them: I sort of suspected it but he does confirm that Fassbinderís The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant was an influence on the play within the film (though he calls his version a ďbastardizedĒ and ďsimplifiedĒ version of it) and he talks about how Bergmanís Persona probably did play a small part into the film as well, though doesnít want to give it too much credit. All of this and then his interests in social media, modern celebrity, and then of course Arnold Fanckís short film Cloud Phenomena of Maloja (which appears in the film and on this disc as an extra) were all then blended together when creating this story.
Itís a great analysis on the themes of his film and how he constructed them, but from here he also covers some of the difficulties in shooting (the train scene was particularly problematic it seems) and directing Binoche and Stewart. Itís a terrific, very insightful interview.
As is the one featuring Binoche and Stewart. Unfortunately they were recorded separately but we still get an interesting collaboration here. The two talk about their respective characters and the development of them, their ways in preparation for a role (which differ a great deal), and working with Assayas. Binoche is wonderful here, as expected, but I guess I was surprised by Stewart, who is very forthcoming. Though she has an incredible amount to say about her role, her relationship with Binocheís character, and the film, what surprised me most was when she shares she had actually been originally approached by Assayas to play Jo-Ann, the troubled Hollywood star (the role eventually went to ChloŽ Grace Moretz), which devastated her as she was intrigued more by Valentine. Unfortunately it isnít explained how Assayas came to cast her in that role since it sounds as though he had someone else already cast as Val. At any rate, itís another excellent interview segment and a nice companion to Assayasí.
Criterion also includes Arnold Fanckís short film Cloud Phenomena of Maloja, which appears in the film and was an inspiration to Assayas for it. Itís a short, 10-minute ďdocumentaryĒ capturing the snake like formation of the clouds that pass through the peaks of the mountains. The opening states that this is actually shorter than the original film, but this version is the only existing one today. Interspersed with a few title cards itís a beautifully shot film, simply presenting the titled phenomena. Itís also presented in 1080/60hz and doesnít look half bad, looking to have had some restoration work done on it. Criterion also includes some text notes about the film, Fanck, and the ďmountain filmĒ genre (I guess you can call it) under the ďAboutĒ item in the sub menu. A thoughtful inclusion.
The disc then closes with the filmís American theatrical trailer, which, not too surprisingly, presents a very different looking film than what it actually is, and then the included insert features a short essay by Molly Haskell looking at the generation gap presented in the film, and mentions other films that cover some of the same ideas (like Noah Baumbachís While Weíre Young). It adds a nice but lone scholarly slant to the release.
In the end, despite enjoying the material here I admit to being a bit underwhelmed, but if you were to press me on what else could have been added Iíd be at a loss (though Iím surprised Moertz doesnít show up in all honesty). At the very least I thought the interviews were all quite good. 6/10