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Cannes Review: Olivier Assayas’ ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ Starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart And Chloë Grace Moretz

Cannes Review: Olivier Assayas’ ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ Starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart And Chloë Grace Moretz

Ever watched a movie and thought “Man, I wish this film had a line of dialogue (or 300) that explained exactly what it wants to be about?” Well, have you ever got a treat in store with “Clouds of Sils Maria”! The new film from Olivier Assayas which screened for press this morning as the last Palme d’Or competitor for Cannes 2014, is a curious type of failure: a film that mistakes needless complexity for depth, and in so doing tells us time and again what it’s about—art vs life, aging, identity, female jealousy, manipulation and insecurity—without ever actually being about those things. Couple that with the fact that the omnipresent, overexplanatory dialogue feels written by someone accomplished in English, but not a native speaker, and you get whole speeches that are stuffed with stilted sentences that roll around the actors’ mouths like marbles; you become a little worried one of them might accidentally swallow one of those ungainly phrases and choke to death. Of course it wouldn’t matter so much if the film wasn’t so reliant on dialogue as the driver of the narrative, but here Assayas’ wordiness is given free rein, with apparently none of his characters ever having an unexpressed thought, as though if they’re not talking, they’re not acting. 

The story plays out in three sections, the middle being the longest. On her way to accept an award for the director who gave her her big break in a play (and subsequent film), called “Maloja Snake”(as is repeated at us ad infinitum), famous actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) and her PA Val (Kristen Stewart) learn of the director’s death. Soon after, Enders agrees to play the second lead in a restaging of “Maloja Snake” in which her original part will be taken by starlet Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz). Enders agonizes over this decision, trying to find her way in to the role of the older, weaker woman while the parallels between her and Val and the two characters in the play also become clearer.

Juliette Binoche is pretty much destined to be overpraised for everything she does from now until the end of time, but she’s earned that privilege, and here she’s solid rather in spite of a role that is both overwritten and underdeveloped. But we can’t go into the ecstasies that many have already expressed; despite some nice sparky chemistry with Kristen Stewart, it’s such a relentlessly self-serving, inward-looking role, and even at her best, the hall of mirrors refraction of playing a character so closely identifiable as a proxy for herself somehow diminishes Binoche’s performance. As with one of the many pat dualities the film sets up, she’s an experienced, accomplished actress being asked to engage in a kind of postmodern experiment, but her considerable talents just aren’t best served by this sort of approach and can find little purchase on such an illusory character.

We’re as surprised as anyone, but the major acting laurels on this particular occasion go to, wait for it, Kristen Stewart, who for our money delivers the better performance (and the film is mostly a two-hander between her and Binoche) and actually manages to make some of the thankless exposition and clumsy dialogue she’s given sound almost natural. Perhaps it’s because she’s playing a character that is not a version of herself—as much as the film comments on Stewart’s fame and peculiar type of celebrity, it does so largely through the medium of Moretz’s Jo-Ann character, and so Stewart is free to just play a part and not navel gaze quite so much. In her guise as a personal assistant to a star, she can deliver observations about the nature of teen fandom and say stuff like “there are a shit ton of pre teens, so watch out” and we can all chuckle at the thought of the rabid 12-year-old ”Twilight” fanbase, but she is doing it from the safe distance of a role that is clearly differentiated from her, and in which she is natural and unforced. 

Elsewhere, though, jerkily written and unevenly acted, the film’s style is also far from Assayas’ best. Strangely lacking in atmosphere, employing very little music so that the few sudden soundtrack cues come off as jarring, it is also, aside from the prettiness of the Swiss Alpine setting, quite indifferently shot and oddly edited. Scenes fade to black before they’ve quite ended, and dissolves are used in seemingly random manner, with one particular sequence, of Kristen Stewart’s Val driving along the twisty mountain roads playing out entirely in double exposure, implying some sort of dreamy, trippy vibe to which the film never returns and on which it never comments. The titles of fictional films are awkward (“A Beetle on its Back” starring Harrison Ford? Really?) and the snippets of interview footage and the film-within-the-film (Moretz’s awful mutant movie) may be supposed to be pastiche-y but they just come across as cheap. 

Some smartypantses will no doubt pull the old “But it’s meta, see so it’s all meant to feel artificial and unreal and contrived.” And maybe it is, maybe Assayas has such a highly developed sense of irony that he has made a not-very-good film to hyper-comment on the nature of not-very-good art. In which case, bully for him, it’s still a not-very-good film. In fact, it felt to us like a catalogue of self-serving narrative contrivances; “Maloja Snake,” from which we hear long swathes and scenes, is after all a fictional play that has been entirely manufactured for the film in order to comment on the central relationship, which is profoundly changed by the experience of reading the play … and so on and so on. We like meta as much as the next guy, but it can’t just say “hey, look at us making a comment on the relationship between art and life and celebrity” it should actually make that comment. But the ouroboros of Assayas’ film devours itself completely, leaving nothing behind. At best a handful of transitory pleasures, ‘Sils Maria’ threads through the peaks and valleys of weighty, interesting topics, but makes no lasting impression on them, insubstantial as a cloud. [C]

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Comments

John B.

Referring to Stewart they say: "she’s playing a character that is not a version of herself". Repeat, "NOT". The movie is not awful and Stewart is excellent.

Amelia

Just saw a screening of this tonight at AFI fest. Your review is funny and right on the money. It didn’t take me more than 10 minutes to realize I was watching art imitate art and the parallel between Val and Maria’s relationship and the characters in the play was downright kindergarten level obvious. I also enjoyed Kristen Stewart’s role and reminded me of her pre Twilight appeal, such as Adventureland. But overall, just because I got that the film was trying to channel The Swimming Pool (a far superior French film) didn’t mean I enjoyed it or found it entertaining. The only purpose I see for this film is to be deconstructed my film students in the years to come.

Bug

Kristen plays a sexually ambiguous hipster, and even wears some of her own clothes in this film — I think you can see why some people say hardly any acting was involved. It certainly does nothing to show range. And no matter how many good reviews her indies get, they never translate into box office. All of her indies have flopping, including Adventureland. She can’t attract an audience to her indies, that’s just a simple fact. And I doubt she’s going to get any nominations, either, no matter how much Sony and her PR team push. She just isn’t likeable or extraordinary in any way.

kdelle

Just reading through a few comments here and people are saying that Kristen played herself,for one thing,I've never known her to have been a PA to any moviestar/celeb etc and secondly,Mia Wasikowska was originally cast in this role.

Guest #1996

She doesn't have much range. Most actresses today don't, it's a rarity. That's why when you hear about certain movies and what they are about you can usually guess at who is going to be in them. However, I do think that in the right element she might be able to pull off a fantastic performance. I think she should start playing the villains, it might be able to make her style of acting shine. I mean she does usually play either a moody, sensitive character or a bad a** and rebellious character. I think the latter is her best performance and best chance to win over some more fans. Maybe even prove that she can do more than stutter, be awkward, and moody. She also is not a strong lead. She needs some time to either hone it or be a secondary character. Cause she can't carry a film well enough yet. She's one of those actresses that might be fantastic, but she has to let go of herself and get lost in the character. Because if she can't get lost in her characters, than how can I? I find myself wanting to fall asleep during her movies and that's not boding well for her career. I mean critics are usually paid by the studios to write certain movies, so they can be biased so it's obviously up to us to decide whether or not she does well in the movie. And this is not a Robert Pattinson enthusiast, or whatever. If I was biased in anyway it'd be because I am a fan of J Lawrence and everyone always compares the two, why I don't know. They have very different acting styles. Take away what you know about Bella or Twilight, you can't judge them from just that performance alone. I mean they are actresses or actors that played a book character from a fan oriented series, with such a large fan base that they can't please everyone with their choses of stars. It's not fair to compare the two.

Mila

I actually gave Stewart a chance and watched 'The Runaways'. She still felt awkward. When she was angry her voice wasn't bold or strong enough. Just my opinion. I'm going to watch 'Speak' now and be proven wrong.

Claudia

What capital offence are Pattinson and Stewart guilty of? Besides Twilight I mean. I have never seen this kind of assault before. What type of deranged people hijack every comment section? Kinda obsessive, don't you think? You don't need a comment section, you need a psychiatrist, pronto.

Clarence

She's a really cool girl/chick and down to earth.
She's funny.
We had a great time.
She's serious about her work.
She's very disciplined.
She's on time.
She knows her lines.
She's really talented.
She's the sh*t.
She's a really good actress.
Loved working with her.
I wanted her for this role.
She understands her character.
She brought more to the character than I saw in it.
She's amazing in the film.
She respects the art of acting.
She's an actor's actor.
I would direct her again.
I have to find a project to work with her again.
You wouldn't know she was in one of the biggest film franchises in Hollywood. She isn't as Hollywood star, she is an actress.
She's intense and she really believes in what she's doing. She makes you want to watch her.
She was so compelling and made you love the character. She made me cry and I don't cry.
She was Joan Jett.
She took her seriously. It wasn't just any role. (Bella in Twilight).
She's the best actress of her generation.
She doesn't try to sell herself or become the typical Hollywood star trying to promote herself. She just does tremendous work in projects that don't make a lot of money. She's the best. I love her.

I could go on because anyone who know Kristen or has worked with Kristen has said these things. I have no idea what these people on here are talking about.

WHEN WILL YOU ALL GET A GRIP?

I've read hundreds of reviews so far and The Playlist has given the most lackluster review of them all. That includes reviews from other countries. @ICSfilm who has some of the toughest critics in the world placed 'Clouds of Sils Maria' as their #1 film of Cannes and 'Winter Sleep' at #2.

Even those who have issues with the content, gave the movie 3 stars or no lower than a B. The Playlist gave 'Sils' it's lowest score with a C whilst complaining about Twilight again.

The bias at The Playlist is apparent. Also, reading thru these comments, some of the commentators who contend to think Stewart is not a good actress are obviously just ignorant because none of them give a clear description of her performances in her films. They are regurgitating what I've read on the Kristen Stewart Hate Sites. Therefore, they are obvious and are telling on themselves. You can read the same thing in any comment section using the same exact words after Stewart releases a film.

As a matter of fact, they even went so far as to say that Moretz would be the standout over Stewart and Stewart would be eaten alive by Binoche.

Neither of which turned out to be true since the majority of screeners have said that Stewart takes over the film.

Heck, I'm wondering if The Playlist has some of those so-called "Nonstens" or "Nonberts" on their payroll because you also sound exactly like them.

Understand this people, if Stewart was so bad, then why do her fellow actors always give her praise. Quite frankly, I want someone to find ANY QUOTE from ANY ACTOR, DIRECTOR etc.. who has worked with Stewart and said that she was horrible? James Gandolfini (may he rest in peace) gave Stewart HUGE praise in an article her wrote about her.

So, Gandolfini doesn't know what he's talking about?

So folks, when you sit behind your little computer keyboards and talk about how "wooden" or how "she only plays herself" as if you know her which you don't, YOU SOUND LIKE IDIOTS.

There is NO EVIDENCE from ANYONE IN HOLLYWOOD who has WORKED WITH HER who has EVER SAID that SHE SUCKS.

NO ONE.

Therefore, keep your little fantasies going on in your heads like a bunch of crazy Christian Greys as Stewart continues to do interesting projects and good work. Because, you fools are the only ones feeling this way. lol

Wanda

Thank you for an honest review. Every other review cannot seem to figure out what this movie is. I have no interest but I love reading reviews and thanks for the best one so far. This movie sounds boring and that is why I am not going to waste the money. I love a great art film but this one reads like a snore fest.

Net

@David. Her characters aren't "always awkward, shy and moody" . You can't say "always", when you've seen only three of her thirty movies. Her Joan Jett certainly wasn't shy or moody, or awkward, she was bold and forceful and practical.. Mallory, in "Welcome to The Rileys was anything but shy–and not remotely awkward. Her character in the Yellow Handkerchief wasn't awkward or shy. She was a girl with ballet training, and she was as lithe and graceful as a wood nymph. She had a caressing southern drawl nothing like Bella's Midwestern speech. The little girl she played in Speak was entirely herself, as well.

net

@ Ellen: "she's not good at being in her body…at constructing the way a character walks, talks, holds themselves (sic) "? Ellen, you can't possibly have seen The Cake Eaters. She played a girl with a progressive, neurological disease, that affected her ability to walk and talk, and she did it so convincingly that neurologist who specialize in such diseases, believed the movie-makers had actually found a girl with the disease , to act in the movie. For that matter, you can't have seen Speak, or Welcome to the Rileys, where she played a "nearly feral" stripper /prostitute. Or the Yellow Handkerchief, or………..Have you seen her in anything?

Lolita

She wears the same clothes in most of her movies as she does in real life. I think that's why people say she plays herself in every movie she's been in.

Hmmmm

I just found out that Chanel put up the money for this film, and now it makes sense that Stewart was cast. Looks like it was a package deal: you put her in your movie, and we pay for it. I wondered how she got this part.

The fashion house has made its debut financing films with “Clouds of Sils Maria,” starring Kristen Stewart, who can be seen in advertisements for Chanel’s Métiers d’Art Paris-Dallas collection.

Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel, says the house not only supplied the actresses with clothes, jewelry, accessories and makeup, but also provided the budget allowing Assayas to fulfill his dream of shooting the movie on 35-mm film instead of digitally.

Assayas and Stewart attended the brand’s fall 2013 couture show. The movie also features a cameo by Chanel brand ambassador Caroline de Maigret, who plays a PR for the fashion house.

Hey

Kristen's performance hass been praised.
Very few bad reviews on the movie, generally it has good reviews, performances have been praised, especially Kristen's, there's not a single bad review on the performances. You don't have to like her, just accept it cause that's reality, she's been praised, period.

Meg

This movie will be the best work of her career, i mean come its not hard to play yourself , And acting is the ability to transform into a believable character leaving ones personal persona out.

Brenda

I was up early reading positive tweets about Kristen's performance from people who attended the 1st screening of Sils Maria. I was shocked and delighted at the praise. Now JS that there are commentors here who have unpleasant quotes regarding Kristen's performance. Is it fair? I don't know. There was a recent article on Celebrity Dirty Laundry recently that went on about how you can tell Kristen is not A-list or a movie star just by looking at her. I only know this because someone posted it on one of Kristen's boards. Kristen has been attacked as an actress like no other actress I'm aware of. People hated on Sienna Miller and that was hideous. Yet, I don't recall her acting credentials being ridiculed like Kristen's. This phenomenon started with the release of the first Twilight film. I'm also sick of people saying she plays the same character all the time, herself. Valentine is witty and warm according to Olivier Assayas. She isn't like every other character Kristen has played. Kristen was a scene stealer in Into the Wild. AdventureLand is liked by many critics and Kristen is one of 2 leads in that film. In conclusion, Go Kristen Stewart and give them hell!

Just Sayin

Stewart is not going to get an Oscar nomination for this movie, so don't harp on that for the next 6 months. This is still a little art house film that no one will see. And her fanbase isn't big enough to make it into a hit.

It got a lot of bad reactions, this isn't the only one.

Breaking with tradition, the last film in competition, Sils Maria, is not a COMPLETE dud. Just dull and inauthentic.

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (4/10) So genteel it makes your teeth hurt. ALL ABOUT EVE it ain't.

SILS MARIA: Oof. A total misfire, like the director forgot how human beings think, act or speak. Binoche does her best, but little there

Couldn't agree more. Might be my least fave of the fest.

Thank chuff you guys agree – thought I was the only one. Thought it was rambling and monotonous with little to say.

cam

Not saying the reviewer has some ulterior motive to hate this movie this much, but with it such an outlier from the other reviews, which were able to see praiseworthy elements beyond just Kristen Stewart giving a good performance, I'm inclined to think this reviewer just had a bad cup of coffee the morning he saw it. An overly grumpy review.

guest

STAY PRESSED ROBERT PATTINSON FANS!!!!

guest

These nasty comments about Stewart are from Robert Pattinson Fandom obsessed to hate his Ex. They're writing the same comments in all blogs.

MDL

This is actually getting very good reviews. Variety writes: "Though deceptively casual on its surface, Clouds of Sils Maria marks his daring rejoinder, a multi-layered, femme-driven meta-fiction that pushes all involved—including next-gen starlets Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz—to new heights…" Hollywood Reporter writes: “By turns wispy and sharply dramatic, Olivier Assayas’ English-language character study benefits greatly from the magnetic and naturalistic lead performances,” These are from their two best critics there.

Nomii

Good to see Kristen Stewart has improved her acting, I think this role really suited her and hope that she sticks to these kind of roles because she's not very good outside of them.

Christian

The first reviews are great for Kristen Stewart's performance, but I have seen some really bad ones coming in. I like Kristen, I hope they're just stubborn on their opinions of her based on her previous roles. Also there were some Boo's after the movie, always thought that was so disrespectfully

Vanity Fair

Kristen Stewart Flips a Metaphorical Middle Finger to Critics With a Great Performance at Cannes

-Vanity Fair

Sam

I think she's type cast. Kristen I mean, all of her characters are moody and sort of grungy. She needs more roles out of her norm. Like a bubbly sort of roles. She's good at playing a moody person, can't deny that.

yer

These comments are satire right?

George

That's too bad. WTF with the comments on here though….I've read several reviews, and they all praise the performances of the actresses, especially KStew of all things. I'm not a fan of KStew, but if she's getting good reviews for her performance why not accept that instead of screeching about how she must be playing herself? Look, I'm not a fan of Channing Tatum but most people thought he was great in FoxCatcher and I can accept that I'm probably the minority (and who knows, maybe he'll surprise me in FoxCatcher)….

benutty

I have trouble with this blog writing a phrase like this: "“hey, look at us making a comment on the relationship between art and life and celebrity” it should actually make that comment" considering the support it threw behind The Wolf of Wall Street, a film that says exactly that–look at us making a comment on flamboyant and careless wealth without ever actually making a comment about it.

Lolita

I'll give Kristen a chance and see this movie. I hope there's no mannerisms of Kristen showing in this role. I really hate it when she exhales a lot, shakes her head and grabs her hair constantly.

Good

A lof of people saying she steals the movie and that she is the revelation of this year's Cannes, she also became a front runner for Cannes' Best Actress, only behind Marion and the Mommy's actress, and she's not even the lead of Sils Maria. :)

MG

The prototype of a badly written review. "Elsewhere, though, jerkily written and unevenly acted, the film’s style is also far from Assayas’ best." Jerkily written indeed…

ROBERT PATTINSON FANS ARE IDIOTS

Good grief, can Robert Pattinson fans not allow Kristen Stewart to get praise (and she has received huge praise for this role) and nor descend and act like a pack of vultures? Even the reviews that dislike the movie have praised Kristen even over Juliette. Pick your battles, Rpattz mafia, this is not the day to attempt your "kstew is the worst actress in the world" mantra. Nobody is buying it and I can beat you over the head with tons of praise for her. Just say the word and I will do it!

Garry

Some reviews I have read said that Kristen Stewart is playing herself? Probably why she's good in it, it's not really acting. This will probably be the best performance of her career, unless she gets another role playing herself… Which will be a long shot.

Joan

I love Kristen! I'm sad that the reviews aren't as great as I thought they would be :/ they are better than some of her other movies though!!! I hope a good diector hires her again they really help her do good!!

LULU

Clarification: Not saying she'll get an Oscar for this role but in the future. Now you all can continue to hate on her and live in your delusional world of "Kristen can't act." LOL!

Heath

The reviews I have read for this movie a mixed. Some say its good others say its terrible…. Who to believe ?

lulu

Let me get my "sane" comment in before all the nutjobs and haters go at it. Love how Indiewire/The Playlist still doesn't get the fact that the major fanbase for Twilight wasn't a bunch of teenagers. They just screamed the loudest and the ones the media decided to film. But as for one who actually attended a Twilight premiere, camped out etc… and went to conventions, the Twilight fans are grown women. But continue on with your delusions. I digress.

As for this review, it must have taken a huge swallow to put the chunks of bowel back down your throats to actually write that Kristen Stewart was better onscreen than both Binoche and Moretz. Damn that pre-review you wasted time writing about Stewart calling her a "stone among great actresses."

If anyone has seen a pre-Twilight Stewart film like 'The Cake Eaters' and listened to the YouTube praises the great Bruce Dern gave her, you wouldn't be surprised. Adventureland etc… is the K-Stew we all know and love. A true viewer and critic of film would know this but again, I digress again, this is only a blog.

No surprise. Kristen wiped the carpet onscreen. People forget that Binoche is not the only great actor she's been onscreen with, but only a fool would believe so (DeNiro, Whitaker, Foster etc…). She's been acting with the best since she was a child. Just saying.

Now fools like the so-called film critics on this site who couldn't hold a candle to Roger Eberts big toe have to actually eat whatever words that were previously written (like you did the last time writing a review all about Twilight and not about the film you went to Cannes to see) actually have to write that Stewart was better than Binoche.

But don't worry your pretty little hearts here at Indiewire/The Playlist, we've been reading what actual film critics have been saying since 5am ET/2am PT. Tweets from them in Spanish, French, Italian, German and English all said the same thing that you so reluctantly choked out.

KRISTEN WAS MAGNIFICENT AND STOLE THE MOVIE.

It's OK. You'll cry when she gets an Oscar for the wooden performances you claim she has.

BTW, not playing herself? When has she played a role based upon her? She's played an exotic dancer, a girl with a debilitating decease, a child with an illness who is chased into a metal closet to save herself from robbers, a vampire, a hippie, a teen working at an amusement park – please stop me when I mention a role where she's played herself.

Oh that bowel must taste fowl. But that's OK, get some Coke and wash it down. Because she's actually being considered for Best Actress which she's actually won at the Milan Film Festival.

Hmm, Camp X-Ray now Clouds of Sils Maria, get out your heart monitors, she's just getting started (post-Twilight).

caroline

It´s funny you can see in this comments some people agenda and some people judmets and lack of reading comprehension, stewart can deliver on the right script and role , even people who did´t like the movie praised her performance

David

If Kristen Stewart gives the best performance in this film then it must be terrible, Juliette is not very good in English speaking roles. I would give Stewart a chance but I do recall really positive reviews for her role in On The Road when the movie was in Cannes. After the festival Bad reviews surfaced and after seeing the film myself I leant toward the bad. I will wait for more reviews before I go see this one.

RUBBISH

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to read between the lines. If Kristen Stewart is your best actress when she is playing herself in the movie, than this movie must be awful. I will pass.

Amazing

Great to see Kristen getting praises. Really excited for this movie

Jackson

Surprised that Kristen Stewart seems to be the most critically lauded out of all three actresses in this movie based on the reviews and reactions I've seen so far. I think she's been consistently good in all of her non-Twilight roles but I never thought she would be deemed even slightly better than La Binoche in a movie. Good for her. I plan on seeing this movie so maybe I can decide for myself then.

Lil

kristen stewart has no range

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