Watch if you're a fan of someone involved, but this thematically redundant and soapy opera full of flat notes is not worth your time.
Clouds Of Sils Maria
The last day of a festival is always bitter, rarely sweet. No matter how exhausted your bones are, or how badly your spine begs for a chiropractor, if the festival was a success you could do it all again for another two weeks. It’s with this dread, and a double shot of espresso to keep the focus, that I entered my last screening; Olivier Assayas’ Clouds Of Sils Maria. The final film shown in competition with a superstar cast of Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Moretz; three women representing three different generations in a story about coming to terms with the past, age, and the consequences of time. Sounds kind of lovely, doesn’t it? Not sure what happened then, because Assayas found a way to drop the ball on this one and produced a lazy, uninspired, and forlorn piece of work.
Maria Enders (Binoche) is a famous stage and film actress who is offered a role for a play she has a deep and personal connection to. The play is about a young seductress called Sigrid who manipulates the older Hanna into a lesbian relationship only to leave her brokenhearted and forgotten by the end. 20 years ago, Maria played Sigrid and immersed herself into the role so much that it mirrored her own personality. Now, after the death of the playwright who wrote the piece, Maria reluctantly accepts the much weaker role of Hanna, but has trouble coming to terms with the way the character is written as it fills her with past memories and present insecurities about her own relevance. With the help of her assistant Valentine (Stewart), she begins to rehearse the role and has slight trepidation and pretentious misgivings with the idea of working with Jo-Anne (Moretz), the 19-year-old Hollywood superstar who has a Lindsay Lohan temperament.
There is so much there to grab on to, it’s a shame Assays butterfingers practically every element of the story. The main conflict, Maria’s relationship with the role, is written with such melodrama that it forces a rather minor performance by one of cinema’s all time greats, Binoche. Her work in English has always been slightly inferior to her French roles, but it just never seems like she gets under the skin of her character and leaves a trail of overacted scenes. Stewart has never been better, and yet she’s still stuck in a stifled shell; even when she’s at her most animated. While Moretz brings in the laughs and proves to be the aspirin for the headache induced by the scenes she’s not in. She, too, has never been better but unfortunately we get much more stifled Stewart than catty Moretz.
The biggest obstacles, however, lie in the execution of the story not the actors who do their very best with what they have. Assayas is squarely to blame for the poorly written dialogue which sounds like it was copy-pasted from some Bold and the Beautiful episode and for montage sequences which make absolutely no contextual sense, only serving to push us away and check our watches. The name of the play is tied into the phenomenon evoked by clouds and wind in the mountains of Sils Maria, where Maria rehearses her part. While the imagery is captivating, and the idea even more so, the meaning behind it is lost in a haze of poorly edited and awkwardly placed images desperate to attach themselves symbolically to characters who are too poorly written to be attached to anything. Not even with the help of 3D glasses would you find three dimensions anywhere in this film.
So, my Cannes festival ends on something of a sour note screening-wise (though, a soon-to-be-published article will show you the high it actually ended on) because Olivier Assayas, usually so on point, missed all his targets with Clouds Of Sils Maria. Fans of Stewart will declare her Best Supporting Actress material mostly because this is her greatest role yet, Moretz surprises in a funny parody of Hollywood celebrities, and Binoche makes you miss Julianne Moore’s batshit crazy and entertaining woman with similar issues in David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. Watch this only if you’re a diehard fan of someone involved, or if you’re interested in seeing what a comic book movie directed by Assayas would look like (a highlight among the weariness.) Otherwise, this thematically redundant and soapy opera full of flat notes is not worth your time.
Originally published on May 24th, 2014 during the Cannes Film Festival.