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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Cannes Review: Clouds of Sils Maria


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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“We now have a situation where audiences very often prefer commercial trash to Bergman’s Persona or Bresson’s L’Argent. Professionals find themselves shrugging, and predicting that serious, significant works will have no success with the general public. What is the explanation? Decline of taste or impoverishment of repertoire? Neither and both. It is simply that cinema now exists, and is evolving, under new conditions. That total, enthralling impression which once overwhelmed the audiences of the 1930s was explained by the universal delight of those who were witnessing and rejoicing over the birth of a new art form, which furthermore had recently acquired sound. By the very fact of its existence this new art, which displayed a new kind of wholeness, a new kind of image, and revealed hitherto unexplored areas of reality, could not but astound its audiences and turn them into passionate enthusiasts.

Less than twenty years now separate us from the twenty-first century. In the course of its existence, through its peaks and troughs, cinema has travelled a long and tortuous path. The relationship that has grown up between artistic films and the commercial cinema is not an easy one, and the gulf between the two becomes wider every day. Nonetheless, films are being made all the time that are undoubtedly landmarks in the history of cinema. Audiences have become more discerning in their attitude to films. Cinema as such long ago ceased to amaze them as a new and original phenomenon; and at the same time it is expected to answer a far wider range of individual needs. Audiences have developed their likes and dislikes. That means that the filmmaker in turn has an audience that is constant, his own circle. Divergence of taste on the part of audiences can be extreme, and this is in no way regrettable or alarming; the fact that people have their own aesthetic criteria indicates a growth of self-awareness.

Directors are going deeper into the areas which concern them. There are faithful audiences and favorite directors, so that there is no question of thinking in terms of unqualified success with the public—that is, if one is talking about cinema not as commercial entertainment but as art. Indeed, mass popularity suggests what is known as mass culture, and not art.”
~ Andrei Tarkovsky, “Sculpting In Time”

“People seem to be watching [fewer] movies, which I think is a mistake on people’s parts, and they seem to be making more of them, which I think is okay. Some of these movies are very good. When you look at the quality of Sundance movies right now, they are a lot better than they were when I was a kid. I do think that there have been improvements artistically, but it’s tough. We’ve got a system that’s built for less movies in terms of how many curatorial standard-bearers we have in the states. It’s time for us to expand our ideas of where we find our great films in America, but that said, it’s a real hustle. I’m so happy that Factory 25 exists. If it didn’t exist, there would be so many movies that wouldn’t ever get distributed because Matt Grady is the only person who has seen the commercial potential in them. He’s preserving a very special moment in independent film history that the commercial system is not going to be preserving. He’s figuring out how to make enough money on it to save these films and get them onto people’s shelves.”
~ Homemakers‘ Colin Healey On Indie Distribution