Clouds of Sils Maria Screen 40 articles

Clouds of Sils Maria

2014

Clouds of Sils Maria Poster
  • It isn't merely that the images of the film are generic; they're fungible, interchangeable, created with tasteless indifference, and piled in by the shovelful to show the performers fitting together the pieces of the script on screen.

  • It's an All About Eve-style drama about a successful film actress (Juliette Binoche) whose relationship with her PA (a quite startlingly good Kristen Stewart) begins to duplicate the anguished dynamic of the stage play she's rehearsing. But it's at once glossily chic and somewhat academic.

  • Clouds of Sils Maria was not as egregiously problematic as his 2012 outing Après Mai (Something in the Air), but it nonetheless came across as a desultory effort, a sketch-outline of a project rather than a fully-fleshed film – with the star-laden cast (Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz) not enough to give substance to Assayas’ foray into English-language cinema...

  • For all the talent and ambition on display, Clouds of Sils Maria is airless and oppressively structural. Assayas has Maria's problem: He's a master craftsman unable to locate the unruly pulse of his art. One senses that every element of each scene has been fastidiously arrived at and achieved, such as the fact that Maria shares her name with the Swiss village of the titular setting.

  • Elegant, witty, and often unnerving in its depiction of the refusal of the psyche to acknowledge the aging of the body, it is, except for a brief, star-touched turn by Chloë Grace Moretz, virtually a two-hander for Kristen Stewart—finally fulfilling the promise she showed early in her career—and Juliette Binoche, as a middle-aged actress and something of an alter ego for the director.

  • Maria’s acting has a tendency towards scenery-chewing, but it is really not so different than the theatricality that Assayas coaxes out of Binoche-as-Maria’s emotional outbursts. Valentine’s rehearsal line readings from Maloja Snake are stilted when compared against Maria’s, but that’s on purpose. Clouds of Sils Maria is a career best for Stewart, going toe-to-toe with the always formidable Binoche—talk about “fucking brave.”

  • It’s a film about acting and actresses, and [Danny,] in your review you aptly mentioned Persona, where Bergman famously staged a literal face-melt between Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson; I was more reminded of All About Eve, less for any definitive meditation on female rivalry or life-meets-art-meets-life complexity than for the wise, assured lightness of Assayas’ touch.

  • Sils Maria demands the same level of scrutiny the women give to the play—the film should be seen once just to sop up the ideas, again to hang onto the moment-to-moment give-and-go of the alert central performances.

  • Where the interpersonal dramas of L’heure d’été and Irma Vep were informed and inflected by the cultural collisions those films so astutely set up, Maloja Snake is merely an echo chamber for Sils Maria’s drama, the means for its (sometimes over-)articulation. And while that drama is nicely turned and intermittently affecting, it lacks that driving, aforementioned question that is implicit in Assayas’ past efforts, to greater or lesser lengths: What is it to make cinema, here, now?

  • As you're watching, Clouds of Sils Maria feels looser and sketchier than most of Assayas's other movies; only afterward do you look back and realize how many intricate layers he's packed into it... Clouds of Sils Maria may not cut as deeply as Assayas's movies tend to. But then, its greatest value may lie in the fact that it gives two fine actresses something intriguing to dive into.

  • Assayas is too energetic and graceful a director to let Clouds Of Sils Maria turn into an exercise in pure explicated theme. There are broad strokes (see: Jo-Ann Ellis’ movies, drawn so crudely, they seem to belong in a Frank Tashlin satire), but also plenty of small and subtle ones, some so organic that it’s hard to tell what might be scripted and what might be the result of Assayas creating a comfortable space for the cast.

  • Stewart won the César award for Best Supporting Actress for Clouds of Sils Maria, and while it’s tempting to suggest that she deserved the prize just for being able to keep up with Binoche in their long back-and-forth dialogue scenes, the fact is that the American ingénue actually creates the richer characterisation.

  • Second viewing, no change, though I moved Kristen Stewart from Supporting Actress to lead and her performance is now officially my favorite of the year (so far) across all four categories. What cinches it is how little acting Valentine does when she's running lines with Maria—her register doesn't alter in the slightest, yet she's still clearly giving a performance rather than just providing cues, which only serves to wind Maria up further.

  • Olivier Assayas’s testy, teasing examination of female identity and celebrity construction layers its cultural and existential debates with the millefeuille complexity of a master; its actresses are visibly thinking as they work, interpreting the script’s questions as they pertain to character and self alike. Yet there’s something arch and glassy about it anyway.

  • The film is hardly as heavy as Bergman's psyche-probes, or, say, Jacques Rivette's theatre conspiracies, both of which Clouds of Sils Maria lightly touches upon. It moves with a direct clarity, introducing its ideas outloud and letting its excellent actresses move and articulate the mise en scène.

  • Sils Maria’s sly virtues will grow with time; the parallels between competing texts and characters are deceptively dense, pressed into a woozy atmosphere that calls to mind Assayas’ Summer Hours. Still, there’s a feeling of malaise that is uniquely attuned to our current state of social (media) affairs.

  • Female rivalry, performance anxiety, and art-versus-commerce are also on French auteur Olivier Assayas’ mind in his brainy, beautiful, quietly seductive Clouds of Sils Maria...

  • ...Clouds of Sils Maria is Assayas’s most cinematically referential and psychologically stimulating film in many years... The camera appears enthralled with every move of Binoche’s sculpted frame within the carefully modulated mise-en-scène, while at the same time the narrative allows for convincing deliberations on the evolution of acting and genre hybridization in contemporary filmmaking...

  • The film echoes any number of thespian melodramas, includingAll About Eve, Persona, Opening Night, and André Téchiné’s Rendez-vous (co-written by Assayas and starring Binoche), and yet emerges as its own, restlessly intelligent, up-to-the-moment reflection on the treacherous uncanny valley between acting and being.

  • A truly stunning coup on a hilltop that culminates in a close encounter with the Sublime invites the viewer to completely rethink the relationship between actress and factotum. Under Assayas’s tight direction, Binoche delivers one of her greatest, least self-indulgent performances, while Stewart continues to demonstrate why she’s one of the best actors of her generation.

  • Assayas manages to create a fascinating pop object that’s both hyper-contemporary and classical. Anchored by a smart script and terrific performances, he has crafted an emotionally honest film about art, celebrity, and mortality in the age of TMZ that’s easily his most satisfying film since 2008’s Summer Hours.

  • Olivier Assayas opens Clouds of Sils Maria with nothing short of a master class on how to shoot a scene inside a moving train. The camera and cutting follow an organic and prophetic rhythm, at once condensing and announcing the film's themes and metaphorical fixations... Clouds of Sils Maria is, curiously, the capturing of this mesmerizing spark spawned by Binoche and Stewart's unlikely non-encounter, which escapes language proper, but fits rather handsomely inside a cinematic flask.

  • Olivier Assayas takes what could have been a ready-made life-imitates-art wank and, with the help of two amazing performers, crafts something rich and genuinely mysterious from it.

  • With the overall invigorating Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas takes a curious glance across the ocean, and his film, more humane than demonlover (if not as purely emotional as Clean), continues the trend of making films about women that are equally about play-acting and performance, but Assayas’s unfussy style and adroitness at casually zeroing in on empathetic moments between people brings down to earth what could have been an overly high-concept drama about a woman in crisis.

  • This recalls Ingmar Bergman's chamber dramas in the intensity and psychological complexity of the central relationship, yet the filmmaking is breathtakingly fluid, evoking a sense of romantic abandon no matter how pessimistic the cultural critique becomes.

  • Throughout Clouds of Sils Maria, the ingeniously cast performers refract and reflect their own off-screen personae—so much so that when Assayas, Binoche, and Stewart appeared onstage at the Walter Reade Theater, a line of dialogue from another sublime hall-of-mirrors production popped into my head: “I seem to have lost the reality of the reality,” says Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes’s Opening Night (1974), one of several key predecessors for Assayas’s movie.

  • The obvious comparison here is with Bergman’s Persona, and I’m sure Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson’s psycho-sexual two-hander was never too far from the thoughts of Assayas, Binoche, and Stewart. But, much in the same vein as Clean andSummer Hours (two of Assayas’s best films, in my view), Clouds of Sils Maria is a warmer film, often very funny, more poignant and humane than any of Bergman’s film work, excepting (maybe) Fanny and Alexander.

  • I found it to be spontaneous, fresh, full of life. The onscreen rapport between Binoche (an aging actress) and Kristen Stewart (her young assistant) is electric and ambiguous without ever being simplified into the expected rubric of power and desire we’ve already seen in Ozon’s Swimming Pool, for example, or in Fassbinder, whose Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant was the model for the play-inside-the-film.

  • Assayas’s highly intuitive dialogue includes the sort of exchanges you don’t much see, a whisker-sensitive rendition of the shaping of opinion and intention, with more impassioned feelings flickering at the edges. Yet throughout, there’s a pregnant sense of suspense, too, achieving something like the late great Oliveira or Kiarostami with Certified Copy, or maybe Rivette, yet utterly grounded.

  • A movie that uses off-screen associations and onscreen Pirandellian games to fuel a generation gap comedy-drama that’s playful, harrowing, and profound.

  • One of the great pleasures of the movie is how Mr. Assayas plays with and then subverts the ugly dynamic familiar from movies like “All About Eve,” with its vainglorious older woman destined for a fall, done in by vanity and the conniving younger female upstart. The three women in “Clouds of Sils Maria” love, talk and move, move, move, sharing lives, trading roles and performing parts. The lives they lead are messy and indeterminate, but each woman’s life belongs to her.

  • Assayas executes a gambit in the final fifth of the movie that makes matters all the more enigmatic. It’s almost as if the conflicts the film depicts up until this point—rendered in convincing, epigrammatic dialogue and action, performed with sometimes searing conviction by Binoche and Stewart in particular—have suddenly been deemed too pat by the filmmaker. His way of shaking thing up is…intriguing, for sure. It's one of those moves that make a second viewing worth contemplating.

  • Binoche and Stewart spend most of the movie in a two-way conversation, and each woman seems to bring out something new in the other. That Stewart can keep up with Binoche is impressive, but that she can think alongside her is exciting. The movie, which Olivier Assayas wrote and directed, is a world of wonders, most of them cerebrally twisty and emotionally hallucinogenic.

  • The film resists resolution, and instead allows the characters’ different projected personas and ambiguities to coexist. Clouds of Sils Maria is not so much a hall of mirrors, but a prism. We know ourselves always in some way vis-à-vis the other, through the prismatic lens of that relation. We interpret others in part because we cannot ever fully know ourselves.

  • Perhaps Assayas, having just passed sixty, has lost some of his interest in unsettlement as a motor for a film. But it would be truer to say that the sort of unsettledness that interests him has evolved into a more deeply internalized, suppressed, or private kind... [Maria,] more than any other character in Clouds of Sils Maria, has the self-determination to control the movie’s trajectory, and it is this that helps explain why the movie’s long midsection is so riddled with gaps, elisions, and dead zones.

  • Binoche plays her role with elegance and melancholic wit – her character slips between fact and fiction in a way that has something in common with her role in Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy – but it’s entirely fitting that she’s outshone on this occasion by her younger co-star. Stewart won a César – a French Oscar – for her performance here, and it’s her best by some distance to date. This is the kind of ravishingly smart, liltingly beautiful film you assume isn’t being made any more. It is.

  • This is a film about the centrality of the actress. I insist on “actress” just as I insist that it’s crucial to the film’s meaning that all the directors in it are male, and not a sexist accident... This is a film about the relationship between the female actor and the male writer/director, which tracks the structural inequalities that prevent the character from realizing what the film itself ultimately proves for the actress: that she has the power to create her own meaning.

  • Clouds of Sils Maria seems to slip, slide, twist, and morph to its ambiguous conclusion. But its nuanced depiction of art making, performance, and power comes into view as clearly as the Maloja Snake—for a few fleeting moments, somewhere in the space between Binoche and Stewart—undeniable and extraordinary to behold.

  • The main difference on second viewing was how I perceived Val's role. Previously I'd thought she was indeed scheming (I mentioned All About Eve in my LB capsule) and that the relationship was antagonistic - and there's a little bit of that, mostly because Stewart's performance is so rich, but now I think it's more accurate (and sadder) to see her as a gift that Maria rejects, a sympathetic interlocutor who could've been her gateway to the "real world", if she'd only let her.

  • [Stewart] is intriguingly opaque, as if she were resisting the star’s obligation to embrace her audience, to make herself an open book. As such, she’s the perfect partner in mystery for the hardly less opaque Binoche in this cryptic, restlessly circling movie of multiple perspectives—possibly the most intriguing yet from the always unpredictable Assayas.

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