“Greta”

Humor and terror are a hard mix, but done masterfully the film audience really takes part in the campy fun. This was my experience in viewing “Greta”. One middle-aged man yelled at the screen, “ Don’t be stupid. Don’t go down there,” and a boy to my far left shouted out directions to our frantic, trapped protagonist: “ Pick up the rolling-pin!”.  I was laughing  out loud one second and grimacing the next.

“Greta” does have a slow build-up, but some of the reason for this is due to the television trailers that reveal too much. Still there are plenty of surprises. There are numerous  traditional horror tropes and routines: severed fingers, hidden rooms, locked toy chests, drug laden syringes, and dead bodies buried in the cellar. Add stalking, manic outbursts, mental asylum history, and cretin private detectives, and subway chases to ramp up the narrative arc, and one will not glance away.

The acting is superb. Isabelle Huppert plays the lonely, revengeful Greta. Her Chanel suits and French cooking prowess, her musicality at the piano keep us interested. Greta’s trench coat chic and ballet steps leave us more surprised at her gum spitting  than her lye-sprinkling. Huppert is having more fun than she did in her early “ The Lacemaker” film, and we are enjoying her.

Irish Director Neil Jordan of “The Crying Game” fame uses the New York setting to great advantage. The restaurants, the subway, the alleys, and off-beat residences ground us in the life of the city.

The two TriBeCa roomies are perfectly cast, too. Maika Monroe plays Erica, the city girl who admonishes naive Francis McCullen (  Chloë Grace Moretz ) that when you find a purse left  on the subway, you don’t return it. You call the bomb squad. Erica has all the best lines and the most moxie. The loft is a gift from Erica’s father. Her answer to most problems is a colonic spa day! Moretz’s heart-shaped face and big eyes make Frankie, who just lost her mother, a vessel to victimize. Greta takes her to atmospheric sanctuaries to light candles. She tells Frankie that her husband played the  church organ here. Her only daughter is in Paris. Loneliness haunts her, so Frankie helps her pick out a rescue dog.

There is a terrific elevator scene with drug induced closing walls and up and down vehicle thrills. The musical score makes the film, beginning and ending with “ Where are you? Where have you been without me?  I thought you cared about me…” and ending with the same Frank Sinatra song. The award-winning Javier Navarrete uses classical music, lullabies, and dance rhythms to underscore Ray Wright and Neil Jordan’s modern-gothic tale.  The refrain “ Where is my happy ending ?” may just set a sequel in place for next Halloween.

“Clouds of Sils Maria”

Olivier Assayas’s film “Clouds of Maria’s Sils” is a slow, layered meditation on living life in the moment, without discounting the past or the future. At times it is like watching sand filter through an hourglass, rushed yet somehow wasted. Time is the centering theme and the clouds’ movements life’s metaphor. Sils Maria is a place name. High in the Swiss Alps southeast of Switzerland, .it becomes a retreat for the famous actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche). Binoche, always a favorite of mine, is easy to identify with as she prepares to give homage to her first director at a Zurich award ceremony. The seventy-one year old Wilhelm Melchior commits suicide before the tribute can be given. The first layer of sand is sprinkled. Life is short, personal and mysterious.

This is a film for people who want to discuss film as a life-recording vehicle akin to the novel. Images will not be forgotten. We begin with a dark, shaking train ride where all are on cell phones. We meet Maria’s personal assistant,easily played by Kristen Stewart,and learn that Maria is negotiating the terms of her divorce. Window reflections mirror the transience of relationships while we hear Maria bolstered by “You love him. Words will come. You will be true to him”. The second layer of this story within a story is laid by watching Stewart meet every need and whim of Maria. No fruit basket, no tv, less Internet, less regret, more nature, exercise and line practices. We learn how much Maria is invested in her career and how seriously she inhabits her characters. M. Enders at the close of her career is not ready to end anything.

The clouds bring sadness, but joy, too. And no one can light up the screen with their laughter like Binoche. We see her skinny dipping and cavorting in unctuous praise. We see her enjoying a warm sun nap on a cliff’s edge, and we see her scream “I can not accept it” with equal relish. This women knows how to live in the moment. I strongly imagine Binoche does,too. She is just so good at being present. She fills the screen.

Part Two introduces us to the Maloja Snake. I thought this cloud formation more resembled a dragon as it moves and encompasses every craggy crevice of the river valley below. It is a perfect metaphor for time’s passage. Much more beautiful than the fragile, contained hourglass.

After her tribute, Maria is asked to play the part of Helen, an older lesbian who commits suicide when she is left by her young lover, Sybil. At eighteen, Maria starred as Sybil, and Maria is not keen about changing places as the less free-spirited woman. The role scares her. She is superstitious. The last “Helen” died in an accident. We know that the youth culture will still see Sybil as the brightest role. Older woman falling for scheming girl reprised may wound Maria’s spirit.

Claus,bthe director of the bleak play “Maloja Snake” has changed the play’s ending. Maria does not read the last three pages, and we surmise that there will be no suicide. We end with a fade out of Maria in London on stage looking every bit the corporate controller. She will age gracefully and powerfully.

All the cast members are good, but Binoche still shines the brightest. Chloe Grace Moretz as the new Sybil is a starlet one loves to hate. Scandalous and dismissive of everyone ,Moretz would be over the top if it were not for the tabloids
we know so well. Kristen Stewart won the Cesar Award for her assistant performance as Valentine. She plays an intelligent foil to Maria. She exits when she feels her views are discounted. She is replaced as easily as the Maloja Snake fills the gaps. A lesson for us all.

“Clouds of Sils Maria” will stay with you long after you leave the theatre. The five bars of Handel serve as the “om” that will focus your meditation on acting and on life, on what is fiction and what is truth.