Reviews are upbeat if not through-the-roof for this tale of an aging actress (Juliet Binoche) who is confronted with a reality of her industry: She is asked to return to the play that launched her to stardom twenty years earlier, but not to the same role. Instead, a much younger actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) snaps it up, while Binoche is cast in an entirely different part. Kristen Stewart plays Binoche’s personal assistant.
Sils Maria is the remote region in the Alps where Binoche and Stewart retreat to begin rehearsals for the new role.
With the exception of the Playlist, critics applaud the sharp performances of the three leads, and also the handling of the central theme: that art is of supreme importance, but it’s also a fickle thing.
French director Olivier Assayas likes his leading ladies
unpredictable and punk, crafting wild pipe-bomb thrillers to suit the feral
energy of muses such as Maggie Cheung (“Irma Vep”), Chloe Sevigny
(“Demonlover”) and Asia Argento (“Boarding Gate”). But does he really
understand women? After collaborating with Assayas on 2008’s perfect, albeit
ultra-safe “Summer Hours,” actress Juliette Binoche challenged the director to
write a part that delved into genuine female experience. 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 Chloe Grace Moretz — to new heights.
Art is the ultimate achievement, says Olivier Assayas’s
meta-drama with Juliette Binoche as an ageing star, Kristen Stewart her PA and
Chloë Grace Moretz the younger model – and it’s nearly brilliant enough to
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.
Assayas’s crisp and thoughtful script brilliantly blurs the
lines between life and play. He often drops in on scenes mid-rehearsal, and it
takes you a few seconds to realise that Maria and Valentine’s “conversation”
isn’t to be taken at face value, while Jo-Ann’s entire scandal-hit life is
presented as an ongoing performance, which Valentine keenly follows on show-biz
There’s smart, enjoyable commentary about the current state
of film-acting, too: Maria turns down a role in the new X-Men film because
she’s “sick of hanging from wires and working in front of green-screens”, while
a trip to the cinema to see Jo-Ann’s latest film leads into a wincingly
accurate superhero-film-within-a-film: Valentine watches rapt while Maria rolls
her eyes over the top of her 3D goggles.
Binoche plays the role with elegance and melancholic wit…
Binoche and Stewart seem so natural and life-like that it
would be tempting to suggest that they are playing characters very close to
themselves. But this would also be denigrating and condescending, as if to
suggest that they’re not really acting at all. Their give-and-take and the
timing of their exchanges, particularly in the rehearsal sequences, is
wonderfully fluid and non-theatrical; Binoche works in a more animated
register, which makes Stewart’s habitual low-keyed style, which can border on
the monotone, function as effectively underplayed contrast. Moretz is all
Given its narrow range of concerns, Clouds of Sils Maria
will be mostly of interest to aficionados of theater, acting and the notion of
how real and fictional lives can blur to those involved.
I kinda love Clouds of Sils Maria. At it’s best, it is a
female version of My Dinner With Andre. At it’s weakest, it is still