New in Theaters: ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in 'Clouds of Sils Maria' (Sundance Selects)

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ (Sundance Selects)

In Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, a venerable actress with a prickly assistant agrees to play the older character in a play that made her famous when she was in the younger role, now cast with a Lindsay Lohan-esque up-and-comer. It’s a rich dramatic environment, suggesting a marriage of Persona and All About Eve.

Clouds of Sils Maria opens this week; my review is at Film Racket:

In this richly satisfying film about age and art, a battle of wills over a new production of a classic play becomes a Rorschach test for two women’s friendship. It’s another subtext-laden drama from Olivier Assayas, whose best work has dug into the simmering tensions of long-term relationships and come up with melodramatic gold. Clouds of Sils Maria won’t be counted among his greater achievements like Summer Hours. But it’s a return to form for a director whose more recent films (Carlos, Something in the Air) have been packed with energy but lacking heft…

Here’s the (somewhat misleading) trailer:

Writer’s Desk: Getting Paid

There are many satisfactions in the writing life; though they all come with caveats. Setting your own hours—unless you’re on deadline. Being your own boss—unless you have to work closely with a narrow-minded editor. And so on.

hereisnewyork1But one of the truest joys that comes with being a writer is when you start to think that you can actually make a living at putting words onto paper.

Longtime New Yorker scribe E.B. White recalled that moment of realization for The Paris Review:

I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight before anything happened that gave me any assurance that I could make a go of writing. I had done a great deal of writing, but I lacked confidence in my ability to put it to good use. I went abroad one summer and on my return to New York found an accumulation of mail at my apartment. I took the letters, unopened, and went to a Childs restaurant on Fourteenth Street, where I ordered dinner and began opening my mail. From one envelope, two or three checks dropped out, from The New Yorker. I suppose they totaled a little under a hundred dollars, but it looked like a fortune to me. I can still remember the feeling that “this was it”—I was a pro at last. It was a good feeling and I enjoyed the meal…

Writing itself is of course a good feeling. Being paid to do so is an acknowledgement from the outside world that you’re not wasting your time doing so.

New in Theaters: ‘About Elly’

Golshifteh Farahani in the mystery 'About Elly' (Cinema Guild)

Golshifteh Farahani in ‘About Elly’ (Cinema Guild)

Although Asghar Farhadi finished his multilayered mystery About Elly a couple years before his masterful A Separation, it’s only getting a proper American release now. It’s about time.

My review for About Elly is at Film Journal International:

Like bloodhounds that can’t ignore a scent once they have been put on it, the films of Asghar Farhadi keep circling back to one redolent and persistent problem: the demeaning, low status of women in Iranian society. They are not message films, announcing their lecturing intent by yoking their narratives to the most politically advantageous plot points. Instead, they tell stories that would carry dramatic weight regardless of their setting, and show how the circumscribed lives of Iranian women exacerbate already lamentable situations…

Here’s the trailer:

Weekend Reading: April 10, 2015

Writer’s Desk: Turning Words to Sparks

Even when a piece of writing isn’t about writing it can inspire. Take, for example, Marge Piercy’s poem “The birthday of the world.” It’s a big, declamatory piece all about calling oneself to task for what’s been done and not done for the world and others. 

Here’s how she ends it:

Give me weapons 
of minute destruction. Let
my words turn into sparks.

Smashingly good stuff.

Weekend Reading: April 3, 2015