Clouds of Sils Maria movie review

Featuring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz
Director: Oliver Assayas
Writer: Oliver Assayas
Movie website:
Australian release date: Thu 7 May, 2015

Reviewer: rolanstein
Verdict: Slow-moving, dialogue-driven, intense and sometimes oblique, this accomplished piece of filmmaking offers reward for effort for those prepared to take the film on its own terms.

This new work from French auteur Oliver Assayas focuses on the mercurial relationship between an acclaimed middle-aged actor (Juliette Binoche) and her young live-in publicist (Kristen Stewart). It is slow-moving, dialogue-driven, intense and sometimes oblique – quintessentially Euro ‘arthouse’, in other words. Patience and concentration is required of the viewer, then, but there is reward for effort for those prepared to take the film on its own terms.

The big payoff is the performance of the enigmatic Kristen Stewart, a curious casting choice given her CV, but an inspired one. If she ever had a Twilight albatross around her neck, she’s thrown it off for good here. She outshines lead Juliette Binoche with a stunningly naturalistic performance, radiating an innate and unaffected cool and surely giving notice that she is one of the most intuitively talented and potentially versatile actors of her generation. She is simply fascinating to watch.

There are ironic parallels, probably slyly intended, between Stewart and Binoche in real life and the narrative. At the peak of an acclaimed international acting career, Binoche’s character Maria accepts a role in a theatrical production that confronts her with the prospect of being upstaged by the young lead, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), an edgy and scandal-prone Hollywood big budget fantasy/sci-fi star!

Adding to the piquancy, Maria has played Ellis’s character in her youth, launching her career off her success. But there’s more. The play is about an older woman infatuated with her young female employee. Lots of ‘meta’ hocus pocus going on here…

There is irony, also, in Stewart’s behind-the-scenes role as Maria’s live-in publicist. Her character, Valentine, is removed from the glare of the celeb spotlight. At one point when Maria is tutt-tutting about media coverage of movie star scandals Val exclaims: “It’s celebrity gossip – it’s fun”. No doubt Stewart delighted in that line.

Stewart’s brief, in a sense, is to be herself (albeit before the cameras), and she revels in this awkward freedom. There is no sense at all that she is acting, or “in character.” Indeed, both Stewart and Binoche give the impression that they are extemporising, although the script is too complex and adroitly shaped for that to be the case.

Not much “happens”; the action is in the dialogue, which is unrelenting and often intense. While this is somewhat testing for the viewer, the nature of the publicist/celeb relationship, with its often uneasy blend of the professional and personal, is intriguing. The highlight is a brilliantly written and performed scene in which Val takes Maria through her lines from an art-imitates-life section of the play where it is never quite clear when they are reading as characters or interacting for real. It’s unnervingly tense stuff.

Not for everyone, but this is an accomplished piece of filmmaking, and worth seeing for Stewart’s performance alone.

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