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By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Cannes Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

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I kinda love Clouds of Sils Maria. At its best, it is a female version of My Dinner With Andre. At it’s weakest, it is still interesting.

The premise is pretty basic. A famous middle-aged actress (Juliette Binoche) is offered the role of a middle-aged woman who becomes the (willing) victim of a 20something. The twist is, she played a version of the 20something a couple decades earlier in the role that launched her acting career.

This gift of self-examination – particularly needed by someone in the bubble of being a successful actress – is offered by the original writer (and apparent director) of the first play… but he dies before he can narrate the older actress’ journey into perspective. So she is alone with this.

Her sidekick is her assistant. And that’s when the movie gets interesting, because not only is the sidekick reflecting the actress’ ideas about youth, but she is played by Kristen Stewart, who aside from the details of “the play,” is in real life the living embodiment of a Juliette Binoche of 25 years ago. So every exchange is steeped in the reality, even if Stewart is playing an assistant in the film.

Adding another layer is the young actress who has been hired to play the 20-year-old character that the older actress had played. Chloë Moretz plays the actress… whose story is very much a reflection of the hysteria around Ms. Stewart in recent years, albeit more venal as an individual. Or is she?

It is one of my disappointments of the film that there is not more time with Kristen and Chloë, as characters, because I felt that the film spoke to how things have sped up. What took 2 decades to go from Binoche’s character’s view of life as a famous actress, inherited by Ms Stewart’s character, took less than a decade to transform into what Ms. Moretz’s character lives and represents.

There is a beat in which it seemed apparent that Ms. Moretz’s character wanted paparazzi attention after a tragedy near her… but Assayas pushes off of that a bit, perhaps to try to make the eventual revelation of her cynicism more of a surprise. But for me, that was a mistake.

Stewart’s character is filling multiple roles, symbolically, here. But the one as a reflection of what Moretz’s character may wake up to in a few years, the next even more aggressive/abusive/self-trapped person behind her, closing even faster.

I have had the opportunity to chat with Kristen Stewart a couple times before Twilight and a couple of times since. I have never felt like the genuine person is being hidden. There is a lot going on in her world… and she has been tardy… and she seems genuinely unhappy being poked at by those near her and at a distance… and she may even be a brat at times, don’t really know. But I like the person I’ve met. And I like this performance as much or more than anything I have seen her do. She reads as the person I have met, having been given that room by the screenplay and Assayas, and Binoche. It often feels like a beautifully lit document of two women to whom ideas are important, who respect each other, and who are worldly, each at very much their own age.

Chloë Moretz’s performance is also quite interesting, as she does eventually turn to her bag of (excellent) tricks. But before she does, she tones it way down… but is playing someone who – I think – is living a performance.

Of course, Binoche has become sublime. Every moment feels like someone you know and want to know better. She offers signs of her age, but still can bring the youthful energy at will. Apparently, this story was her idea… and good on her.

By choosing Olivier Assayas to work with, she not only found a director who can manage the male gaze without it becoming a leer, but he is not timid at all about, really, going without men of significance in the film. There is a dead man, an aging male star, an agent on an iPad, and a variety of male figures who do not define the women in the film… as all too often, female characters do not have a real effect on the men leading films.

I don’t think this is going to be the most popular of films with Cannes audiences. It doesn’t click off every box. But I really enjoyed watching every moment of it. The discussions in the film should be discussions we all have about art and artists much more often.

4 Responses to “Cannes Review: Clouds of Sils Maria”

  1. LYT says:

    Chloe Moretz, Kristen Stewart…and no comments about “FEEEEEET” yet?

  2. YancySkancy says:

    Someone send a neighbor to check on Lex.

  3. LexG says:

    Would there be any point? Just get deleted as usual. :)

  4. LYT says:

    Yet you did them on a totally unrelated thread.

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“I suddenly couldn’t say anything about some of the movies. They were just so terrible, and I’d already written about so many terrible movies. I love writing about movies when I can discover something in them – when I can get something out of them that I can share with people. The week I quit, I hadn’t planned on it. But I wrote up a couple of movies, and I read what I’d written, and it was just incredibly depressing. I thought, I’ve got nothing to share from this. One of them was of that movie with Woody Allen and Bette Midler, Scenes From a Mall. I couldn’t write another bad review of Bette Midler. I thought she was so brilliant, and when I saw her in that terrible production of ‘Gypsy’ on television, my heart sank. And I’d already panned her in Beaches. How can you go on panning people in picture after picture when you know they were great just a few years before? You have so much emotional investment in praising people that when you have to pan the same people a few years later, it tears your spirits apart.”
~ Pauline Kael On Quitting

“My father was a Jerome. My daughter’s middle name is Jerome. But my most vexing and vexed relationship with a Jerome was with Jerome Levitch, the subject of my first book under his stage and screen name, Jerry Lewis.

I have a lot of strong and complex feelings about the man, who passed away today in Las Vegas at age 91. Suffice to say he was a brilliant talent, an immense humanitarian, a difficult boss/interview, and a quixotic sort of genius, as often inspired as insipid, as often tender as caustic.

I wrote all about it in my 1996 book, “King of Comedy,” which is available on Kindle. With all due humility, it’s kinda definitive — the good and the bad — even though it’s two decades old. My favorite review, and one I begged St. Martin’s (unsuccessfully) to put on the paperback jacket, came from “Screw” magazine, which called it “A remarkably fair portrait of a great American asshole.”

Jerry and I met twice while I was working on the book and spoke/wrote to each other perhaps a dozen times. Like many of his relationships with the press and his partners/subordinates, it ended badly, with Jerry hollering profanities at me in the cabin of his yacht in San Diego. I wrote about it in the epilogue to my book, and over the years I’ve had the scene quoted back to me by Steve Martin, Harry Shearer, Paul Provenza and Penn Jillette. Tom Hanks once told me that he had a dinner with Paul Reiser and Martin Short at which Short spent the night imitating Jerry throwing me off the boat.

Jerry was a lot of things: father, husband, chum, businessman, philanthropist, artist, innovator, clown, tyrant. He was at various times in his life the highest-ever-paid performer on TV, in movies, and on Broadway. He raised BILLIONS for charity, invented filmmaking techniques, made perhaps a dozen classic comedies, turned in a terrific dramatic performance in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” and left the world altered and even enhanced with his time and his work in it.

That’s an estimable achievement and one worth pausing to commemorate.

#RIP to Le Roi du Crazy

~ Biographer Shawn Levy on Jerry Lewis on Facebook