Clouds of Sils Maria review
This movie is so meta, it’s like the Inception of indies.
It’s hard to sum up, but here goes: Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), an aging actress is having a hard time coming to terms with not being the flavor of the month anymore. Then her personal assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart) talks her into signing on to another production of the play that made her famous when she was young. (Coincidentally, director, Olivier Assayas co-wrote the screenplay for Rendez-Vous, which was Binoche’s first breakout role.) But instead of playing the young ingénue like last time, she has been cast as the older, more pitiful character. Taking her place is Hollywood’s latest train wreck, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), who drives Maria’s character to suicide. The actress that played the older character last time also killed herself. So there’s that.
Maria and Val head to the Swiss Alps to run lines, where their toxic relationship begins to fester. Val is not only her PA, but also a confidante/best friend/therapist. (It’s also worth noting that Stewart is currently dating her assistant, because this movie just isn’t meta enough.) There’s obvious sexual tension between the two, which only builds in their claustrophobic cabin. As they hike and rehearse, it’s hard to tell when the dialogue is on or off script. Their dynamic is so similar to that of the characters in the play, sometimes the only indication they’re acting is when Val reads out the stage directions.
Stewart recently made history as the first American actress to win a César Award (France’s version of an Oscar). And she really is back in her element, a character-driven indie sans CGI. She and Binoche have great chemistry, and each gives a powerful performance. I wish I could say the same of Moretz, who was kind of lackluster as a burnout teen star. Or maybe it’s just because I roll my eyes whenever someone says “Oh no, the paparazzi!” in a movie.
Ironically, when Val’s defending Jo-Ann’s blockbuster sci-fi movie, you can hear Stewart’s loyalty to the franchise that made her famous. The weird part is that she was originally considered to play Jo-Ann, which probably would’ve been too obvious. There’s also the fact that Jo-Ann is having an affair with the director of the play, something that is uncomfortably close to Stewart’s own life.
Unfortunately, Sils Maria moves at a glacial pace. It’s so boring, even Stewart peaces out in the middle of the movie. Not even the promise of seeing her in a thong is worth (two hours of) your time.
Header image credit: CG Cinéma