Saturday, November 15, 2014

More 'Clouds of Sils Maria' Reviews added (Part 2)

| PART 1 |



Master Post #2 of the 'Clouds of Sils Maria' reviews, still with a lot of praise for our girl. :)))

Please keep in mind that reviews can contain spoilers, lots of spoilers, and that negative reviews can be interesting to read.
If you have more reviews, feel free to email me. :)


REVIEWS

•• Vulture: An actress (Juliette Binoche) and her assistant (Kristen Stewart) withdraw to a picturesque, mountainous Swiss resort to take long walks and run lines for a play about a domineering female boss’s obsession with a younger, manipulative underling. The play itself begins to snake its way into their interactions and their life — or is it the other way around? 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.


•• Edmonton Journal, Katherine Monk: Director Olivier Assayas takes an elevated look at a rather base reality in this study of female performance.

Juliette Binoche stars as Maria Enders, a true diva of an actress facing a career transition as she steams through middle age. Her personal assistant (Kristen Stewart) does her best to prop up her ego, but when Maria is asked to perform in the play that made her a star as an ingenue — only this time as the older crone — she’s thrown into a tailspin. Owing a debt to Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, as well as All About Eve, Assayas explores the boundaries of female identity through reflections and relationships, ensuring the richest veins of material are tapped in successive layers that bore deeper and deeper into the psyche. Binoche and Stewart create a spellbinding dynamic that is as seductive as it is surprising.


•• Collider, Perri Nemiroff: Rating A-
The film kicks off with Stewart’s Valentine fielding calls while on a train making its way to Switzerland. She’s actress Maria Enders’ (Binoche) personal assistant and right now, they’ve both got a lot to deal with. In a matter of minutes of watching the two juggle calls and try to figure out what Maria should include in a speech she’s due to give for Wilhelm Melchior, the acclaimed playwright who launched her career, you get a thorough understanding of their dynamic. Stewart’s got a winning poise and confidence to her while Binoche infuses Maria with passion for her craft while also alluding to a degree of self-doubt and insecurity.

Fortunately for Maria, Valentine is in perfect sync with her and serves as the support she needs when they find out that the playwright she’s set to honor has passed away. When Maria contemplates turning around and canceling the trip, Valentine never agrees nor does she insist that Maria forge ahead and give the speech. Valentine serves as a guide by gently making suggestions and being a steadfast friend, but then letting Maria make the ultimate decision.

Soon thereafter, Maria is courted to take a role in a revival of the play that made her a star, Wilhelm’s Maloja Snake. She’s apprehensive, but eventually commits and that’s when her relationship with Valentine makes this remarkable transition that’s absolutely fascinating to follow on many levels.

Taking the role of Helena in Maloja Snake isn’t just another gig for Maria. In the original rendition, Maria portrayed Sigrid, the young woman who seduces her boss and ultimately drives her to suicide. This time around, however, she’d be playing the boss, Helena. It’s a huge opportunity and PR gold, but Maria still identifies with Sigrid and has trouble accessing the material from Helena’s perspective instead. On top of that, Maria’s also got to shake a devastating memory from her past associated with the part and deal with the fact that, by playing Helena and not Sigrid, she’s essentially affirming her place in an older generation.

What makes Clouds of Sils Maria such a remarkable achievement is how it peels back the layers of this situation. It’s Maria’s role, but she’s become so dependent on Valentine’s support that she truly can’t do it alone. But, at the same time, Valentine is approaching the character from a completely different perspective. Is it because of their age difference? Is it because Maria has a history with the material and Valentine doesn’t? Is one woman’s take closer to Wilhelm’s original intent? We don’t know for sure, but because we’ve got two enchanting and especially engaging main characters trying to figure it all out in a wildly dynamic manner, it’s never about getting a definitive who’s right, who’s wrong kind of answer. The characters are growing and their lives are changing, and Maloja Snake is just the conduit.

While Valentine is running lines with Maria, it’s not just about whether or not Maria is making progress with the character. The text they’re performing also offers additional insight into how they’re feeling themselves. And then, when they’re not working on the play and just having a drink or going on a hike, their interactions harken right back to Maloja Snake. They’re so seamlessly in tandem that you naturally start making the connection between reality and fiction without even realizing that you’re doing it. Part of the reason it’s possible to connect on such a deep, carnal level is because Binoche and Stewart both deliver flawless work. In fact, this might be Stewart’s best performance yet. She’s done sound and convincing work before, but I’ve never seen her give the audience access to a character quite like this one.

Making Clouds of Sils Maria even more of a standout is that it’s so clear that no one could have done it alone. I’d like to bet the whole thing was a strong idea on paper, but part of the reason a viewer is able to track and be part of Valentine and Maria’s relationship is because Binoche and Stewart play so well off one another. And then we’ve also got Assayas’ shot selection, which is loaded with motivated camera movements that further highlight the importance of what these characters are choosing to do. It’s an outstanding collaboration that makes you care about these women while also challenging you to the same thing that the characters are doing throughout the film, assessing the developing entertainment industry and figuring out where you fall within it.


•• Den of Geek, David Crow: Rating 5/5
Clouds of Sils Maria is a gift to the craft of performance and femininity; stars Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Moretz shine.

What is it to be feminine in the modern world? According to Hollywood and moviemaking, from whose bosom the triptych of lead females in Clouds of Sils Maria spring, it lies somewhere along the curve of a skintight costume while being able to swear and fight like the boys. Perhaps that’s why Olivier Assayas’ evocative new film is such a godsend for the craft of performance and the actresses who practice it.

Simultaneously authentic and artificial, Clouds of Sils Maria envelopes audiences in its overwhelmingly self-aware mist, consuming its femme triumvirate with the pressures of a distinctively odd vocation. The three central actors, Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz, do not inhabit their characters but inform them with an honesty so brutal that the deception of where the fiction begins and ends remains elusive. Binoche’s bio particularly hints at a rarified knowledge about the necessities of having once been the ingénue but now being the matron.

With shadings of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve, Binoche’s Maria Enders must quite literally pass along her filmic legacy to the next generation with all the anxious lamentation inherent with such submission. But like the multi-generational casting, there are layers deeper in Assayas’ screenplay than simply the characters’ ages.

Set around Maria’s career after she turns 40, the internationally famous stage and screen thespian begins Clouds of Sils Maria by traveling to Zurich in order to honor the playwright/filmmaker that gave her a career. Casting Binoche’s Maria at only the age 18 in first his play, Maloja Snake, and then its film adaptation, the auteur Wilhelm Melchior is often mentioned but never seen, as he commits suicide mere hours before Maria Enders arrives in Switzerland.

Devastated by his passing and wistful for her youth, Maria initially waxes nostalgic about the past with her personal assistant, confidant, and possible soul mate, Valentine (Stewart), and then finally allows herself to be lured by a young and hungry European director, Klaus Diesterweg (Lars Eidinger), into signing onto his new production—a West End revival of Maloja Snake. Except now, Maria will be playing the older half of a two-woman show where she’s a middle-aged businesswoman who is beguiled and ultimately driven to suicide by her enigmatic lover and assistant. The younger part is a star-making role, Maria should know, but now it’s going to TMZ Queen Jo-Ann Ellis (Moretz), and Maria finds herself off-left of spotlight. As Maria and Valentine prepare for the play in the briskness of the Swiss Alps, the meta-fiction threatens to swallow them both as completely as the titular morning fog.

Not necessarily by surprise, Assayas’ thoughtful deliberation on actors becomes a performer’s showcase for its three leads. And while built around Binoche’s inescapably gilded vulnerability that's been plastered on a Playbill, Stewart and Moretz both also shine with their most revelatory and nuanced work to date. Stewart said at the New York Film Festival press conference following my screening that she was originally offered the part of Jo-Ann, but opted instead for the far less showy Valentine role. It is a prudent and successful subversion by both the director and the actress. While Stewart can more than relate to the stormy tabloid clouds that form around Jo-Ann’s lightning rod throughout the movie, the larger and more taciturn Valentine role allowed Stewart to best supplant her image by severing from it.

Valentine’s relationship with her employer is both that of intimate and provocateur. While it is never precisely detailed how long Maria and Val have known each other, their companionship is equally unquantifiable and profound, with Binoche and Stewart quickening each other’s performance; the blatant irony of the play they’re studying and its parallels to their own symbiosis are unavoidable.

Intentionally influenced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s play/film The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, the play-within-a-film Maloja Snake is a lurid tale of codependency that in more mercurial hands could act as an on-the-nose kismet of doom for the film’s orbiting females (see Roman Polanski’s recent Venus in Fur for more). However, Assayas recognizes his protagonists as storytellers interpreting a fiction that is, by nature, shrouding and twisting reality. When Maria Enders was an 18-year-old ingénue, she found a simplistic truth in the material as the strong fatale who beckons a weaker and aged failure to her demise. But with two decades of time to influence her perspective, the pretty words in her hands ring with a falsity that Valentine cannot hear. Life is not over after middle-age, even for an actress.

This distinction is lost on the wonderfully coarse Jo-Ann. Moretz tellingly plays the young adult as the crucified epicenter of pop culture’s starlet dichotomy, located somewhere between the gravitational poles of Jodie Foster and Lindsay Lohan. Obviously an actress who could easily find herself in such alternating media narratives, Moretz marvelously colors her repellent character with an insider’s knowledge, enlivening a talent all but indifferently asleep in her own recent studio star vehicles (If I Stay).

Jo-Ann herself is more of a mystery than the other two characters, as she is only seen through Maria’s eyes, first as the TMZ-stamped harlot on Google searches that finds her swearing at paparazzi, and then as the articulate and ingratiating intellectual with whom Maria has dinner. Like most of the film, this humanness defies the simplification of the Internet age and “talent” while also allowing vicious satire of Hollywood and a woman’s place in it. Tired of being offered X-Men roles, Maria watches Jo-Ann’s own superhero movie (not unlike Moretz’s purple-haired alter-ego) and is horrified by the big budget stupidity masquerading as adult entertainment these days. The only thing more cruelly funny is Stewart, who has starred in more than her fair share of supernatural franchise roles, defending the subtlety and intelligence of a movie about super-powered teenagers on a spaceship.

Yet, as much fun as the movie has with self-aware criticism, it nevertheless remains fixated on femininity in our world, especially for those who come from another planet.

Binoche and Assayas create a searing persona for Maria as a woman who is paradoxically cynical and naïve enough to think things have not changed. Her world is blissfully controlled by Valentine’s careful handling, and the supposedly important moments of Maria’s life literally fly by via jarring and persistent cross-fades. Rather, it is the day-to-day minutia that encompasses her existence, and the sole relationship of importance in it. Time otherwise passes like those Alpine clouds around her, but Maria remains at a defiant standstill.

Clouds of Sils Maria contemplates gender, age, and the media in a time when all those things are in constant flux. Late in the picture, an up-and-coming studio director bemoans that he is of the generation of viral Internet icons like Jo-Ann Ellis. I suspect that Assayas feels somewhat similarly about the industry, as his film removes all the frills of modern day filmmaking when it focuses on a few actresses trying to simply put on a play. The elegance of this old-fashioned objective is transformative for both the cast and the audience. In a sense, they strive for something far more timeless than the supposed immortality of contemporary cinema, thus creating a Maria that is truly for its age.


•• Stage Buddy, Jose Solis: Valentine (Kristen Stewart) balances herself inside a noisy train car as she holds her phone, she rolls her eyes, sighs and offers monotonous responses to the person on the other end and we understand this is but one of many similar calls she’s had to take. She hangs up and walks into the private train compartment where her employer awaits. Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a famous actress who has hired Valentine as her personal assistant, when we first meet them they are going through the lines of a speech Enders will give at a tribute for Wilhelm Melchior the playwright whose Maloja Snake “made her”. Then another phone call and everything changes as Maria learns her mentor has died. In a second, she has come face to face with mortality.

Maria is then offered a chance to star in a revival of Maloja Snake, except this time she won’t be playing the twenty-something lead, but the forty-something antagonist who falls in love with the younger woman, leading to her downfall. Maria prepares for the part by rehearsing with Valentine. If you think you know this is going, you’re absolutely wrong and one of the many pleasures in Olivier Assayas’ haunting Clouds of Sils Maria, lies precisely in rejoicing in the satisfaction of discovering the many faces of artistic interpretation.

While Assayas covers territory explored in such classics as All About Eve, The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant and other actress-centric works, he does make his own contributions to the “subgenre”, especially when it comes to the merciless cycle of tabloid consumption and manipulation. “I thought we despised the internet” Valentine points out when Maria suggests she Googles someone who wronged her, but then we catch her in bed gleefully going through TMZ-like videos of the young actress (a viciously seductive Chloë Grace Moretz) who will play opposite her in Maloja Snake.

The sensuous Binoche who has mastered the ability to be earthy and ethereal bites into the role of Enders with pure delight. She doesn’t scream, she doesn’t indulge in big diva moments - at least not the expected kind - instead, she almost seems to purr her way through the film. Always the generous actress, she allows Assayas to make her seem monstrously callous and insensitive while clad in Chanel and becomes almost childlike during a scene when Valentine takes her to a 3D movie, as we see her taking her glasses on and off, both with wondrous disbelief and disgust at the gimmickry of it all.

Stewart has never been better. She gets rid of the aura of scandal and celebrity that have made her so famous, and effortlessly makes Valentine feel like a person we know. Her shy smile exuding a warmth we would’ve never imagined she possessed. In a film filled with meta references she always lacks the self-consciousness she displayed in the Twilight movies, and as Assayas’ screenplay sends snarky lines her way (“there are werewolves involved in it for some reason” about a movie pitch) she evades them beautifully, making us forget about Kristen so we can only see Valentine. Her soft, sensitive acting makes for an engrossing mano-a-mano when contrasted with the more aggressive Binoche.

Like the breathtaking location where it mostly takes place, which presents the characters with a threat and a playground of sorts, Clouds of Sils Maria casts a strange spell on us. Perhaps Assayas’ most enlightening work to date, a reminder that artistic creation is still the closest we’ve been to touching the divine.


•• CBS News, David Morgan: Directed by Olivier Assayas (the magnificent miniseries "Carlos"), "Clouds of Sils Maria" is a mesmerizing examination of how life can imitate art, and of how artists struggle to find the truth in artistic expression, when the truth feels too ephemeral to grasp. [It had its U.S. premiere Wednesday at the New York Film Festival.]

Binoche, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1996's "The English Patient" (and who was nominated for Best Actress four years later for "Chocolat"), is commanding as Maria, whose self-doubt at revisiting her early success also reflects her struggle with aging, and her position in the industry, as a new generation of film actors (and film fans) seems alien to her.

Kristen Stewart's performance will be a revelation to those who only know her from Hollywood franchises. Her Valentine is not only intelligent, forthright and funny; she also holds her own against her older employer -- more than just a sounding board, she tries to be the conscience of Maria, and of Maria's stage character. She's an exceptionally natural, un-self-conscious performer.

Moretz ("Hugo," "The Equalizer") takes what could have been a showy but thankless role -- a caricature of a Lindsay Lohan-like celeb -- and embody her with all the positive, self-empowering attributes that Valentine (for one) sees in her. And yet, she is still a 19-year-old, and self-awareness (as Maria may attest) takes time to accrue.

In fact, the only thing that could upstage this effective trio of actresses is the Swiss Alps, where the film was shot, and where the passage of time seems an afterthought.


•• Chicago Reader, Ben Sachs: Clouds of Sils Maria As with Irma Vep and Clean, French writer-director Olivier Assayas transforms a backstage drama into a meditation on the state of cinema, capitalism, and popular culture. Juliette Binoche plays a movie star who reluctantly agrees to perform in a new production of the play that launched her career three decades earlier; most of the story transpires at the isolated Alpine home of the recently deceased playwright, where the actress goes to prepare for her role, and centers on her relationship with her young personal assistant (Kristen Stewart, who more than holds her own against the star). 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. With Chloe Grace Moretz. In English and subtitled French and German.


•• Serving Cinema, Eric Tuscanes: Rating 8,5/10
The past, present and future are always hard to define, especially so when it comes to the arts. In any medium, great talents and flashes in the pan come and go, sometimes so quickly that we observers may mistake one for the other.

Clouds of Sils Maria, Olivier Assayas’s brilliant new film, focuses on aging actress Maria (An exquisite Juliette Binoche) as she reluctantly prepares for a role in a play she once performed in—only this time, she’ll be playing the older woman who ends up committing suicide opposite the younger role she originated.

Maria deals with malaise in both her career and personal life. It’s a cause and effect; she considers herself an actress of craft, and in the midst of a divorce, is getting offers to appear in superhero movies. In one of the movie’s many observations about the current state of film, Maria realizes that in productions like these, the right actor for the part is s/he who can best embody the expectations of a given franchise.

Such a thing is one of the many discussions Maria has with her assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart, who I’ve never seen better). After all, Valentine, a woman in her twenties, grew up in a different era of pop culture, as well as a different country with a different attitude towards the arts. Perfectly multilingual, Maria is capable of working in both the American and French studio system, if only she could get a role that satisfies her, which seems like a growing impossibility as we learn her complexities and tastes.

Maria, after all, doesn’t read the script and interpret it—she “lives” it, and being an actress of a certain age, to play this role would not just ask her to be this character but confront her own standing, both in life and in acting. What does satisfy Maria about her role is that she’ll be playing it opposite Jo-Ann Ellis (A very astute Chloë Grace-Moretz), a young starlet whose multitudinous escapades are keeping TMZ in business. There would be no Jo-Ann (by her own account) without Maria, as it wasn’t until Jo-Ann saw Maria in a production of The Seagull that she realized a career on stage is what meant for her.

Maria herself has enough trouble connecting with Valentine when it comes to the play (In terms of character; Binoche and Stewart have a wonderful rapport, and not just any actress can keep up with Binoche), and maybe a certain part of Maria takes joy—or schadenfreude, perhaps—working with somebody who could either be the next her, or the next Lindsay Lohan.

Jo-Ann, meanwhile, is an unabashed trainwreck, but in spite of her foibles (to be polite), Assayas recognizes that she is, after all, a human being. The biggest strength of Clouds of Sils Maria (and there are quite a few) is its positive portrayal of women. The portrayal of women being portrayed by men has been a topic of conversation for quite some time (many times under unfortunate circumstances), and through his direction, Assayas lets the connection between the actresses speak for themselves. Certain incidents in the final scenes expose people’s true colors, but never does Assayas forget that these are women given a certain shelf-life and expectations that men are completely immune to.

By virtue of the content alone, he also indirectly breaks the fourth wall. When discussing Jo-Ann, Valentine is in awe of how unapologetically true to character she is. Jo-Ann could use a PR agent that can actually teach her to conduct herself in interviews (and the right people to teach her to conduct herself, in general), but such an untamed persona is what makes Jo-Ann Valentine’s favorite actress.

That is just one example of a scene that draws attention to Kristen Stewart being cast in the role; having gone on quite the media frenzy during the Twilight years, she had to endure brutal reviews and constant monitoring from the paparazzi.

By casting Stewart in the role, is Assayas trying to draw attention between the correlation of actor and celebrity? That’s just one of the many questions he poses. If anything, there are a bit too many questions, and at times, the film feel more like an exercise than a piece of storytelling. Assayas does not want to answer everything being addressed, and the first two acts (save for a poorly edited scene in which Valentine drives around the foggy roads for reasons that are not addressed) run smoothly. The movie is a little over two hours, and perhaps more time was required to fully address everything he has on his mind.

Nevertheless, he’s a very attentive observer, and Clouds of Sils Maria is ultimately food for thought for the viewer. Not everybody may attain to the latest celebrity scandals, but there is definitely one Jo-Ann that each viewer will have in mind: that actor or actress who’s more famous for legal and personal woes than the acting itself.

And, at the end of the day, it’s not about how the play will be performed but how Maria will or won’t ultimately feel about this role. By making the movie about that, Assayas leaves a resonant message: ultimately, our past, present and future are all about how we are able to come to terms with ourselves.


•• Limité Magazine, Daniel Quitério: Rating 5/5
Set in the breathtaking Swiss Alps, veteran actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) prepares to star in the revival of a play that made her famous many years earlier. The role that catapulted her into stardom, that of Sigrid, a savvy vixen who engages in a power struggle with her older boss, Helena, will be played by troubled “it girl” Jo-Ann Ellis (a mesmerizing Chloë Grace Moretz). Enders will be taking on the role of Helena, one that she is not mentally prepared to play. With the help of her loyal assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), Maria reluctantly faces the challenge head on, and in the process must come to grips with themes of aging—both in terms of the play and in her own life.

For Clouds of Sils Maria, famed French filmmaker Olivier Assayas reunites with Binoche following their 2008 family drama Summer Hours. In Clouds, Assayas draws parallels between the film’s main story and the play within the movie. Both explore the dichotomy between young and old, and the differing perspectives that come with each. Binoche shines as an aging actress who faces the impossibility of reclaiming her past self, and the struggle that often comes with an evolution of perspective. Valentine helps Maria along through her honesty and youthful outlook.

The chemistry between Binoche and Stewart is undeniable. Each elevates the other to give her best possible performance in what is a rather weighty film with difficult topics. Following years performing in the Twilight film franchise, it’s sometimes difficult to recall that Stewart’s talent has more depth than some might know. She reminds audiences in Clouds that she is a serious actress capable of standing tall with classic veterans like Binoche and Assayas. And Binoche is quick to acknowledge this; recognizing the differences in her and Stewart’s processes, Binoche, who takes time to prepare for her roles, allowing the text and character to settle in, stated that Stewart approaches her preparation differently. Binoche said, “Our process is different because our rhythm is different. Kristen is quick because she has a seed of genius.” Naysayers may scoff at such a comment about the Twilight actress, but indeed, Stewart shines in Clouds with the radiance of an accomplished actor. Meanwhile, Binoche owns the camera in a way only an actor of her stature can.


•• Film Swoon, Christopher Schobert: Olivier Assayas’s Cannes hit was the first film I saw at TIFF14, and it was a ravishing, ambitious beginning. Full of mystery and unforgettable imagery, Clouds is another fascinating step in the career of a filmmaker at the peak of his powers. Binoche is typically wonderful as an actress revisiting the play that made her a star, but Kristen Stewart is a revelation as her assistant. There were numerous great performances at TIFF this year — Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything — but I’m not sure one has stayed with me like Stewart’s in Sils Maria.


•• Movie Pilot, Rudie Obias: Clouds of Sils Maria dips in and out of Maria's battle with her past and her future, while firmly being planted in the present. Binoche is always top-notch and it's no surprise that she shines in the film, as Kristen Stewart surprises with a wonderful performance, as well. Stewart's Valentine, not just gives Maria perspective on her career, but also a look at the honestly and naivety of youth. Maria longs for how things used to be, as Valentine is a reminder that, by nature, life has to change. Stewart is picking very interesting projects post-Twilight and Clouds of Sils Maria shows off the actress' range of ability. She's no Bella Swan in this picture! The stage play "Maloja Snake" is representative of that change as it (a series of clouds that move through a sleepy Swiss village, as if it were a snake) slithers through mountain tops in a beautiful stream of air and water.

The film also serves as Olivier Assayas' cutting satire and comment on Hollywood's obsession with superhero movies and cheesey science fiction films. While the comment might rub some viewers the wrong way, it seems to be more a laugh at the status quo in Hollywood than anything else. That's where the character Jo-Ann Ellis comes into play, as a young actress trying to break into more serious and dramatic roles, but is clipped into tabloid journalism and paparazzi news. Clouds of Sils Maria is wonderful and if you give into Olivier Assayas reliable hands that it will sweep you into the life of artists on the downswing of their careers, while fully examining the excitement of youth.


•• Shockya, Karen Benardello: Powerfully and captivatingly exploring your deep-rooted emotions, desires and ideals during a period of intense personal exploration, as you struggle to find your true purpose in life, can be a harrowing obstacle. But once you find your true passion that completely fulfills your sense of self, you undoubtedly begin to feel like you found your real purpose in life. That struggle to overcome any challenges you’re faced with, and becoming completely happy in your life, is enthrallingly explored in writer-director Olivier Assayas’s new drama, ‘Clouds of Sils Maria.’ The movie, which screened for the press on October 8 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater during the 52nd New York Film Festival (NYFF), not only emphasizes the profound realizations the two main characters come to terms with while examining their relationship, but also highlights the authentic chemistry and prowess of actresses Kristen Stewart and Juliette Binoche.


•• Awards Circuit, Terence Johnson: Rating 3/4
Clouds of Sils Maria is not the first film to comment on movies, theater, or the state of the entertainment industry, but I’m hard pressed to think of one that comes as ethereal as this film. There’s a breezy feeling that flows through the film, very much mimicking the cloud formation that winds through the mountain pass near where Maria (Juliette Binoche) and Valentine (Kristen Stewart) are staying. That kind of lightness and ease of movement really carries you past some script miscues and tonal shifts to make Clouds of Sils Maria an enjoyable experience.

Whatever positives there are to say about this movie must start with the luminous Juliette Binoche. This movie could have easily fallen apart if not for the enduring awesomeness of Binoche. The camera has always loved her, but in this film she practically glows. The script hands her a lot of good material that often references things in her life or comments on where she’s at in her career, and Binoche wise navigates the waters between the personal and the performance. Helping her deliver such an outstanding performance is Kristen Stewart, whose naturalistic performance must be lauded. Stewart seems to be one of those actors who excels when given roles that simple require being present in the moment and hew more modern. She’s always had an abundance of talent, but this movie feels like a step towards more mature roles where she can simply be in a character, rather than having to use specific acting methods or gestures.

These two women, well everyone in the cast really, excel not just on ability, but on a deftly written script. Clouds of Sils Maria could have easily devolved into a series of winks and nods at the movie industry and the actress’ careers. Luckily for viewers, writer/director Oliver Assayas knows just how far to go and just when to pull back. It’s just as thrilling watching Stewart talk about an actress starring in a critically reviled big budget film with such energy and life as it is to see Binoche’s Maria struggle to come to grips with the role she’s decided to take. Where the movie begins to stumble is when it introduces that vapid character played by Chloe Grace Moretz, whose energy is just off enough to almost trip the film up. There’s also the matter of how Assayas choses to divide his scenes. While the film does mimic a stage play (it has 2 parts and an epilogue) the fade to black after each scene really robs the film of its momentum and almost undoes Kristen Stewart’s impact. However, Stewart and Binoche are on another plane that you don’t mind the detours and missteps the film might take.


•• Crome Yellow: Rating 5/5
Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria is like a force of nature. It’s an exceedingly layered look at art, celebrity and aging from the point of view of three complexly rendered women. As the film’s main leads, Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart are electric on screen together, spinning meta-fiction into must-see drama. Assayas is a master at the way he profiles his characters and their relationship, bringing the hidden life of a megastar down to an intimate, irresistible level.

The story concerns international superstar Maria Enders and her loyal, personal assistant Val. At the film’s start, both are enroute to accept an award for revered playwright Wilhelm Melchior, who gave a teenage Maria her first big break in a production called Maloja Snake. On the way to the tribute however, the pair discover that Melchior has abruptly passed away. In the midst of this, an up-and-coming director wants to mount the same play. The story features a young ingenue who strikes up a workplace affair with an older woman – and while Maria once played the younger woman, she’s now wanted for the opposite. Maria is naturally uncomfortable with the role reversal but takes it on after much hesitation. Together with Val, the pair retreat to a secluded location in the Alps to prepare for the role. It’s here where things get interesting, when Val is called to help Maria run lines. The play eerily mimics the ambiguous and unwittingly fragile relationship of both women, causing them to question parts of themselves they’ve never encountered.

When it comes down to it, the film is incredible because it’s raw, human drama, stripped down to its very core. Maria and Val are characters that manage to feel fully formed, representing different ideas which challenge each other at every turn. With the characters isolated, the entire film is made up almost exclusively their dynamic and how the bounds between their professional relationship are blurred. Without distractions, the spectacle is Assayas playing to his stars’ strengths, mining them for all they’ve got to deliver the story’s layered subtext about our relationship with culture and time. As humans we fear change, and it’s this innate fear that drives most of Maria’s actions and her hesitancy with playing the unglamorous lead. There isn’t anything sensationalized here, instead we get some of the most realized female characters to ever grace the screen. It’s interesting to see a film about people in real situations, dealing with the mortality of their legacy without the crutch of a high concept, just good writing and execution.

On par with the film’s textured script are equally elaborate performances from Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloe Grace Moretz. Binoche frankly never does wrong, and it’s the same here. She gives her all again, sinking her teeth into an analytical, sensitive character towing the line between cultural relevance and artistic integrity. She commands the screen whenever she’s on it, imbuing elegance and intelligence like no other. In any other script, her character would be a manic mess, but here, she handles her tortured struggles with grace. No doubt, the surprise here is Kristen Stewart. I can’t begin to say how excellent she is in the film. She’s a confident woman who’s headstrong in her ideals and she wears her character’s convictions well. She holds her own agains Binoche with ease, juggling the tough demands of her character and their psychological effects. Throwing a wrench in the proceedings, is Chloe Grace Moretz as the young starlet, Jo-Ann. She’s the hot up-and-comer chosen to take over for Maria’s breakthrough role, firmly planted within Hollywood’s blockbuster system yet thirsty to forge her own path and make an impact. She represents something Maria can no longer identify with and the idea scares her. Through these characters, Assayas has given us strong-willed women whose strength is in their intellect above all else.

Clouds of Sils Maria is a keen, sophisticated film that doesn’t need anything more than its no-frills performances and deep character work to get by. It’s urgent and relevant in relation to the industry that the characters take part in, and Assayas uses that to give us three incredible women each at their own crossroads. Through these fully formed characters and a tricky narrative reminiscent of Abbas Kiarostami’s Certified Copy, the film is an exploration of past, present and future, dissecting context and the way ideas change as our perception of them transform over time. It all results in a perfect synergy of self-aware satire and devastatingly honest filmmaking.


•• The Film Experience, Margaret de Larios: Five reasons to see... Clouds of Sils Maria:

1) Juliette Binoche. Her Maria Enders is just delicious to watch. She's magnetic, emotionally rich, and adept at the aging woman, the brilliant actress, and the self-involved star. One devastatingly catty line ("He's a great actor") is tossed off with such a light touch I was almost on the floor.

2) The chemistry between Binoche and Stewart is insane. Their easy rapport, their mutual jealousy, their co-dependency is instantly convincing. When Stewart's Valentine runs lines for Maloja Snake with Maria as her younger lover, the textures of attraction and intimacy they play (Is this part of the text? How much of what we're seeing between them is real?) are fascinating.

3) Chloe Moretz... if you're into that sort of thing. She has a key role as the unpredictable tabloid-fixture actress cast to play opposite Maria Enders in the revival of Maloja Snake, and reliable sources tell me that she is good in it. I cannot be objective (she just bothers me) but that visceral dislike actually worked for the movie.

4) The Swiss countryside (and its clouds) are magnificent. Much of the film takes place in the Alps, and there is no skimping on sweeping landscapes and beautifully streaming light. Cinematography is by Yorick Le Saux, who also lensed I am Love.

5) That third act. Who saw that coming? How do we feel about it?

Clouds is due in March (such a long wait time after its Cannes debut. And why?). Now, who still needs convincing?


•• DVD Talk, Jeff Nelson: Regardless of whether or not we're willing to accept it, we're all getting older by the day. One moment, we're an eighteen-year-old with our entire life ahead of us, and the next, we're a forty-year-old with responsibilities. Getting old is a very serious fear that many people have around the world, as many refuse to accept it, and cling to a youth that has left them. This is one of the many complex issues discussed in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria. Many filmmakers have tackled such subject matter, but only a few are able to successfully interpret this very real fear on the silver screen, or in the case of the picture's context, on the stage.

Clouds of Sils Maria is a film that not only places a mirror in front of Maria, but in front of the audience, as well.

For some, it may be a tad slow, and maybe even a little bit pretentious. Such comments will come from the picture's "talky" nature, which just might be too much for some. While there are a few scenes towards the end that could have been pulled a bit tighter, Clouds of Sils Maria remains quite captivating throughout the entire running time. Tension continues to build between Helena and those around her, such as Valentine and Jo-Ann. Yet, it isn't until she meets new filmmaker Piers Roaldsen (Brady Corbet) that her perspective truly comes to be. This is a realized piece of filmmaking that has concise messages and themes, which are all chaotically circling around Maria. It's as if we're in in the eye of the storm, as we watch an insane amount of destruction occur around us. The final act successfully ties it all together, which allows for this journey to feel much more impactful.

If you know who Juliette Binoche is, then you know about her dynamic range. Well, it most certainly hasn't been lost in the role of Maria Enders. In fact, it's in full effect here. This is a powerful performance that makes us believe in the character's tribulations. Kristen Stewart is captivating as Maria's assistant, Valentine. This just might be her most sincere performance to date, as she truly immerses us in this world. Her readings with Binoche are absolutely tense, only further enforcing the film's themes. The role of Jo-Ann Ellis is a very different one for Chloë Grace Moretz. After being so "hit and miss" over the years, it's great to see her playing a completely different character. She's entirely fitting here, as we're constantly made uncomfortable by her manipulative and explosive ways. This is a powerful trio of female performances that manage to hit the nail right on the head. It's nearly impossible to watch Binoche, Stewart, and Moretz without becoming hypnotized by their performances.

Assayas has a very particular style that illuminates Clouds of Sils Maria in the best way possible. There's a constant shift in the color palette, which lends to an ever-evolving story that acts very much like a play. A film that starts with a blue tone progressively becomes more yellow as time goes on. It continues to evolve throughout the picture's duration. This is only further enforced by the decision to utilize slow fades throughout the picture, giving the illusion of a stage play's dimming of the lights in order to move into the next scene. Yet, the picture has such a phenomenal sense of movement. Not long after hearing the news about Wilhelm, Maria is in the car with a storm of emotions raging in her head. The scene is shot from outside of the car, as the reflection of tree branches and other objects move horizontally across it, giving the sequence not only movement, but drama. Writer/director Olivier Assayas has a unique style of filmmaking that proves to be entirely captivating.

It seems to be increasingly difficult to find filmmaking that successfully captures the fear of aging, which is certainly a reality for many people around the world. This is a universal problem that affects everybody, and most filmmakers fail to handle the subject matter appropriately. Fortunately, writer/director Olivier Assayas has created something truly worthwhile. Told in the structure of a play, this is a film that approaches its themes with respect and intelligence. The well-written script is elevated by brilliant performances by Binoche, Stewart, and Moretz. This film can best be described as Brady Corbet puts it as Piers Roaldson, as being outside of time. Clouds of Sils Maria is transcendent in its grasp of humanity and perspective. Highly recommended!


•• Complex, Brian Formo: Kristen Stewart can act, despite what Internet trolls say. Just watch The Runaways, Adventureland, and On the Road. However, pitting her against one of cinema’s all-time great actresses, Juliette Binoche (Blue, Code Unknown, Certified Copy, Godzilla), in a wildcard French auteur’s dissection of art and celebrity, was going to be a test. After seeing Clouds of Sils Maria, it's clear: the two stand together.

Stewart is Valentine and Binoche is Maria Enders. Their relationship in Olivier Assayas’ film is not dissimilar to Ingmar Bergman’s two muses who fuse personalities in Persona after discussing a manage-a-quatre, an abortion, and an a shared inability to be moved by the Holocaust. Though, Clouds of Sils Maria is much lighter and more playful than that.

Enders is a movie star who began her career on the stage. She’s now in her 40s, going through a messy divorce, and requesting that her rumored comeback in an X-men-type film be removed from her IMDb page. Valentine is her assistant, and her friend. They are dependent on each other for rewarding mentions of each other’s intellect and beauty. After the death of her playwright friend, Enders decides to take a part in the new stage production of his play that made her famous, The Maloja Snake. The play, it turns out, is a dissection of sexual power in an office, carried out between a 20-year-old femme intern and her forty-something female boss. Enders rose to fame for playing the ingenue, but now she's tasked to take on the older character, one she sees as pathetic.

There are plot points, such as the casting of teen-wreck-but-superhero-box-office-gold, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) opposite Enders. Ellis’ fling with a married novelist (Johnny Flynn) threatens to overtake the buzz of her stage comeback. But Clouds of Sils Maria is mostly a play within a movie about a play—with movie scenes. It’s a meta-truffle that’s more fun to unpack after viewing.

The Maloja Snake is full of intense, melodramatic lines about lust, power, and age. Enders and Valentine test Enders’ new character lines in a secluded Swiss mountain town. They disagree about her character’s pathetic qualities, and they discuss age and grace in scholarly ways. They go to town to see Ellis’ newest space flick, in which Ellis utters intense, melodramatic lines about rape and power, before using her superhero power to de-materialize her foe. It's essentially, though loosely, a sci-fi version of Snake.

And that’s the story. What makes Clouds of Sils Maria enjoyable is the chemistry between Binoche and Stewart. It’s their giggle fits, their drunken gambling; it’s Valentine’s concern while handling Enders’ phone calls because she knows which news is bad news because they’re so intertwined. Their fully-formed relationship settles and rests like the fluffy clouds that snake through the Sils Maria mountains. Their talk about the play ends up being bullshit. Their real life is more entertaining, natural, and dramatic.

Clouds of Sils Maria is a solid, but imperfect film. Ellis’ TMZ section is over-the-top and Moretz, as an actress, seems to be out of her weight class with Binoche, and now Stewart, who brings the perfect amount of subtlety to the role. But if you’re at all familiar with Assayas (Summer Hours, Carlos, Irma Vep), Moretz’s seeming ineptitude might be deliberate.

Assayas is a deceptively playful filmmaker. Here, he shows Valentine’s attachment to Maria by having her drive away to see a boy—Assayas sets her drive to a foul trip-hop song—only to get dizzy, pull over, and vomit on the side of the road. His Ellis-starring mock space film appears to still need special effects (or perhaps no one cares anymore—just slap a costume on and give a girl a raygun and rake in the money).

Like Irma Vep (which itself is a remake of a film, within a film), Assayas saves his best visuals for the end: first, the beauty of the titular clouds of Sils Maria; next, the innovative set design for the play, which is staged with multiple colorful glass cubicles that are adorned with angular glass grooves.

But Sils Maria ends with a hidden smile. Every woman in the film is struggling with different aspects of their age, and they desire approval from other women, not men. The smile comes, but only when a woman isn’t defined by her age. Perhaps its best to see the film for the conversations about art and identity that you’ll have afterward. If there's one thing clear in all of Valentine and Enders' conversations, it's that Assayas wants you to talk more about them.


•• O Globo, Carlos Helí de Almeida:
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New movie of Olivier Assayas, that will be released tomorrow (in Brazil), put the veteran actress Juliette Binoche and the rising star Kristen Stewart in opposite sides of fame.

When an artist is for awhile in his activity, it's inevitable that work and private life ends up mixing. In this industry for more than 30 years, Olivier Assayas learnt this lesson very early, but only now, after developing several professional and affective relationships on and off screen, he is proposing to think about this duality in the drama "Above the Clouds" (translation of the portuguese name of 'Clouds of Sils Maria'), that will be released tomorrow in Brazil. In the movie, that was in Competition in the last Cannes Festival, Juliette Binoche is a mature actress confronted with her own past and the concepts of fame and prestige, when she is invited to star in a version of a play that has launched her career 20 years ago.

"I've always been intrigued by this grey area in what movies become parallel to the reality.. Making movies is to build fantasy worlds for what you invite professionals that you admire and, eventually, you end up being involved with them and bonding. It's a weird world in what you recreate the reality around it. It's like you're living two lives," says the 59 years old french filmmaker, in an interview by telephone to O Globo from his house in Paris, where he lives with his wife, the also filmmaker, Mia Hansen, and the couple's daughter.

'Clouds of Sils Maria' has its origin in his previous collaboration with Juliette Binoche in Rendez-Vous, where he worked as a screenwriter. Since then, they both followed the career of the other and worked back together in projects like "Alice and Martin" and "Summer hours". There were moments when public and private were way more entwined in Olivier’s life, like when he was married with the Chinese actress Maggie Chung, between 1998 and 2001, star of two of his movies “Irma Vep” and “Clean”.

But the experience with Rendez-Vous was more appropriate for the themes that he would like to explore: in the Techiné’s movie, Juliette is a young unknown actress that become famous after being in a “Romeu and Julet” play.

"'Clouds of Sils Maria' is a compilation of things that I wrote 30 years ago, that were settled in Juliette and myself, but still are around us. With the new movie, we are back to the world of those characters; the time has passed and they grow older. It’s a story of how you deal with time, not from the banal perspective of the age, but how time forces you to open new chapters in your life, and how it echoes inside of you," explains Assayas. "It would have been impossible to make movies with Maggie when we were together, for instance, because it would have forced me to deal with intimate things and I need to protect my private life. We got married after Irma Vep and we’ve split before Clean."

'Clouds of Sils Maria' narrates a decisive moment of Maria Ender’s career, an experienced French actress who travels with Valentine (Kristen Stewart, from Twilight Saga), her assistant, to Swiss, where she will honor her master and there, she is surprised by the news of his death. Both go to her dead friend’s house in the Alps, isolated, to hearse the text of “Maloja Snake”, the play that launched Maria’s career decades ago. The play is about a conflicted relationship between an executive and her young assistant. In the original play, Maria was a major success playing the bold assistant and now she is challenged to play the role of the boss. Their readings of the play also put in perspective her relationship with Valentine.

In some sequences the movie approaches ironically the Hollywood movie industry and celebrity cult. Chloe Grace Moretz who was launched for the world with movies of the Kick Ass franchise is a young rising actress, star of super hero movies that is invited to play the role that Maria played in “Maloha Snake” at the beginning of her career. The young actress is hunted by tabloids and Kristen’s character defend paparazzi work and love news about famous people.

(Scan & translation from Portuguese by @TeamK_1 ♥)