Kristen Stewart puts in a good performance. Yes I’m serious.
Director: Olivier Assayas
Featuring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz, Lars Eidinger, Johnny Flynn, Brady Corbet
Production Company: Pallas Film
Duration: 123 mins
Reviewed By Alessandro Hutt
Despite Clouds of Sils Maria constantly beating us over the head with what it’s about, it doesn’t have an identity. It leaves no significant impression, nor does it generate any lasting comment strands. Even with the solid performances by Binoche and Stewart it’s a failure as an engaging film.
Aging veteran actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche, a standout performance) is asked to revisit the play that made her a star 20 years ago. The play, named “Maloja Snake” is about the manipulative lesbian relationship between two women, with one being noticeably older than the other. This time Enders is recruited to play the older woman while upstart Jo-Ann Ellis (a bratty Chloe Grace Moretz) will take over the role of the younger woman; the role that catapulted Enders’ career. Disappearing into the Swiss Alps to rehearse the play with her assistant Val (a layered Kristen Stewart, yes really) it becomes apparent that there is more below the surface of their professional relationship.
What follows is an incomplete look at women’s roles in film and stage, the art of acting, and the distance between real life circumstance and performance. At least that’s what the film repeatedly tells us it’s about. Clouds of Sils Maria never felt like it was sure of itself, nor was it focused enough on delivering its thesis. Instead we get meandering discussions chock full of clunky dialogue, which the film is all too reliant on. This comes at the expense of character development. Even with all the profundity that Stewart and Binoche espouse they don’t grow as characters. Stewart’s conclusion feels forced so it can fit into dramatic plot convenience rather than anything mysterious. Binoche’s Maria is stuck in a plot cul-de-sac the whole time. That’s not to say the acting is poor. Both actresses throw their all into the roles. It’s the writing that falls short.
The film can be best described as clumsy. The meta references to Binoche’s career are cheeky but awkward. The shots of Swiss scenery are beautiful but jarring. All the references to Maloja Snake are stuffed in like Navi yelling “Hey! Listen!” The editing decisions are just baffling as well. Scenes seem to end mid-sentence, and the constant fade to black dissolves get obnoxious. They immediately disengage you from whatever statement the scene was making.
So while it is commendable for it’s attempt at tackling interesting subject matter, the execution is wonky. It’s a long sit at 2 hours and at times it’s quite distracted. I would give Clouds of Sils Maria maybe one watch for curiousity but nothing more.