At first glance, the film sounds like another commentary on the state of the entertainment industry. But it’s a rarity to see a complex female character at the center of it, and the film benefited from three excellent performances by Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz. An unlikely trio to be sure, yet each brings such authenticity to their character and they keep the film grounded despite the sometimes aimless wandering of Olivier Assayas‘ direction.
Binoche plays an international film star Maria Enders who’s at the peak of her career. She reluctantly accepts a role in a revival play, Maloja Snake, that made her famous twenty years earlier. Back then she played the role of Sigrid, a young girl who has an intense but eventually catastrophic with her much older female boss, Helena. Of course this time Maria’s asked to play Helena, which brings some sort of internal crisis as she grapples with the dark themes of the play, as well as the issue of aging and the shift of entertainment landscape in general. The dialog between Binoche and Stewart who plays her dedicated personal assistant Valentine are revelatory and amusing, I enjoy the honesty and frankness of their relationship. Val seems to understand Maria more than she’s given credit for, and despite their sometimes prickly banters, they obviously have a strong bond together.
Some have compared the story to Birdman and All About Eve and they do share similar themes, but there’s enough uniqueness in the protagonist’s journey and relationship. Moretz’s character Jo-Ann, a Lindsay-Lohan type starlet who’s talented but self-destructive is fascinating, as you could say that it resembles Stewart who was quite the tabloid fodder during her Twilight years. During a rather hilarious conversation where Val’s trying to convince Maria that there’s more to Jo-Ann and her seemingly shallow sci-fi character, I couldn’t help but think of Stewart herself. This could very well be Stewart’s answer to the naysayers (me included) that she could act, that she’s more than just a ball of nerves who can’t stop fidgeting. I have to say that she succeeded with this role and she earned her groundbreaking César award.
I read on IMDb that the film’s premise was Binoche’s idea, she pitched that to writer/director Olivier Assayas and he wrote a script with the idea. So no wonder Binoche was perfect in the role of Maria and no doubt it’s a character the international film star herself could relate to. Even at 51, she’s still as stunning as her much younger co-stars. There’s a certain self-assuredness as well as raw vulnerability in Maria that Binoche captured perfectly. She’s frustrating at times but never irritating, at least not to me. There are also some humorous moments when she googled Jo-Ann and was shocked/amused by all her shenanigans captured by paparazzi.
The film is shot 35-mm film and it’s simply stunning. It can practically serves as a travel video to the Swiss Alps, especially the resort town St Moritz. The Maloja Snake refers to the thick white low-lying cloud formation that *slithers* its way along the mountainsides and it’s captured beautifully on screen. The classically-tinged score is lovely too, it’s definitely the kind of music I enjoy and it fits the mood and tone of the film well. I’m really glad I saw this on the big screen and it’s become one of my favorites of the year. There are some slow moments and the ending dragged on a bit, but for the most part I was quite engrossed in the story. It’s rare to see such a well-developed, female-centric dramas these days, so kudos to Assayas for writing/directing one that also feels authentic. But the stars truly belong to both Binoche and Stewart, especially the latter who’s able to convince me that she’s an actress worth writing about.
Have you seen Clouds of Sils Maria? Well, what did you think?
51 thoughts on “MSPIFF 2015 Review: Clouds of Sils Maria”
Great review! I love Juliette B. She’s still gorgeous and if you say Kristen Stewart acts well, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. A female version of Birdman? Well, I’m glad there’s enough deviation to give it a life of its own. I want to see it! Thanks, Ruth.
Ahah, sounds like you and I share the same opinion about Stewart. Well, I never thought I’d say it but yeah, she’s good here and I actually like her character in it. But Binoche is always ace in everything I saw her in and she’s still as stunning as ever. Only the essence of the story is similar to Birdman, in terms of style/tone and even acting, it’s totally different.
I’m glad. The setting looks decadent, too. A good score with it?
Oh yes, I forgot to mention the score. I should add that in my review. It’s a classical-music type score which I adore!
Agreed on all counts, Cindy. (Sorry I’m still incognito.) I’m trusting the rave reviews of Stewart, too, though I still find it hard to believe.
And Binoche is amazing.
Beautiful review! I was waiting all day for this to drop 😀
I can’t wait to see this. Very neat that Binoche pitched this and that the screenplay was written for her. They are a great team, her and Assayas. Have you seen Summer Hours? It’s a beautiful film!
Thanks Drew! I really think you’ll love this one. I actually just finished another review of a wonderful female-centric drama set in a Parisian suburbs, Girlhood, I can’t recommend that enough.
Yeah It’s cool that Binoche had this idea and pitched it to Assayas. No I haven’t seen Summer Hours, now you got me intrigued!!
I can’t wait to see Girlhood! Tomboy was one of my favorite films of 2011, so I’ve been dying to see Girlhood. Have you seen Tomboy? It’s just brilliant!
I have to go back and check out Tomboy now, since I love Girlhood so much! I reckon you’d love Girlhood too. Seriously I bet it’s far better than Boyhood, ahah.
I see what you mean about the Birdman comparison. I remember K Stewert won a cesar award for her performance, which I didn’t see coming.
I’ve had my doubts about this one since I read the indiewire/Playlist review which claimed it “makes no lasting impression”. Sounds like from your review it was worth seeing! Glad you liked it 🙂
I actually didn’t think of the Birdman comparison until I saw a reviewer mentioned it. I guess I could see why he thought of it, but they’re two very different films. Well I don’t always agree w/ Playlist to be honest, I actually think there are a bunch of snobs who are waaaay too critical. Whether something makes a lasting impression or not also depends on how one identifies w/ the story and/or character. It definitely makes an impression to me.
Great review, Ruth. Sounds like a movie I need to see at some point. 😉
And Stewart is a real actor, huh? Huh.
You should Josh, it’s really an intriguing story & beautifully-acted.
Ahah trust me, I’m NOT a fan of Kristen’s at all, so imagine my surprise! But hey, I have to give credit when it’s due and she was really good here.
You’ve made me really excited about seeing Kristen Stewart shedding those Twilight days. Not that those films/that role was the worst thing ever but man I got sick of hearing about her in the tabloids. And I don’t find myself paying attention to that kind of stuff much; it just seemed inescapable at some point. Lol.
I really like the sounds of it. And each review I read has nothing but glowing things to say.
Hey Tom! Well, I think Twilight movies are perhaps one of the worst ever, it’s just sooooo cheesy! But yeah, it’s interesting how Chloe’s character seems to be inspired by Kristen’s real-life career post-Twilight, being a Tabloid fodder and all. Interesting to see her playing someone who’s rather selfless and not seeking the limelight here. Definitely well worth your time!
This sounds amazing. And Binoche looks amazing too, wow so she’s 51 eh. I like that Stewart is taking on these kinds of roles post Twilight. And I like the anecdote about Binoche coming up with the premise and got this role written for her. I mean the last role I saw her in was Godzilla … kind of disappointed she was wasted in that. I’ll have to watch Clouds some time 🙂
Oh yeah I know, it’s so lame to see her so under-used in Godzilla! But here’s a role that utilized her talents, beauty & charm as an actress. Kristen is good too, she definitely could match Binoche’s intensity here, which was a pleasant surprise.
Oh, I watched it last year on Festival Sinema Perancis! Well, what came to my mind was: it’s a great juxtaposition with Cronenberg’s Maps to the Star in a different side of production. Well, yes, I love Kirsten Stewart here more. I think 2014 is her year in all small movies 🙂
anyway, I’d be very glad to announce that I nominated you for the 2015 Liebster Award.
Please kindly check my post here:
Well, thank you for blogging experiences you share so far! And I think it’ll be great if you’re partaking on this.
Oh nice! That’s cool that they have multiple film fests in Jakarta too! I haven’t seen Maps to the Stars, but Cronenberg’s usually not my forte. Seems that the Twilight kids are starring in indie films, good for them!
THANK YOU for nominating me, how nice of you!
Yesss! Cronenberg’s wasn’t my kind of film, too, but a friend recommended me and it was good. The best part is, Maps to the Stars also starred another Twilight guy, Pattinson. Lol.
Well i saw COSM in my country at Festifal Sinema Prancis too, Binoche and Stewart are great i know cosm is Binoche’s movie but Stewart steal the show, i missed Stewart when shes not on screens. Hey i saw her in STILL ALICE, good acting to supporting Julianne Moore beside Alex Baldwin.
Ms Stewart deserved her CESAR award!!!
Hi Rita! I forgot Stewart is in Still Alice too, well nice to hear she’s starring in more indie films.
Really interested in this one and it is a nice surprise to hear Stewart is good here. I’m still looking to come around when it comes to her. Binoche is always amazing. Have you ever seen Certified Copy?
Hi Keith! I know you’ll appreciate this one, given your love for Binoche. Funny how in every MSPIFF I have to always see a film of hers, but she never disappoints! Kristen is good here, trust me, and it was such a pleasant surprise. I actually saw the first 10 min of Certified Copy, not sure why I never finished it. I kind of already know the twist of the story now but I think it’d still be worth a watch for miss Binoche!
Certified Copy made it well into my Top 10 for that year. Such a beautiful movie. You really need to see it.
We don’t get this until mid-may but I’m really looking forward to it. Great review as usual Ruth!
Hope you enjoy this as much as I did when you get to see it Natalie!
I’m glad to see Stewart get some praise but am surprised to find out how many people above are surprised by her acting ability! I haven’t actually seen any of the Twilight movies, and I’m presuming it’s that series that has primarily influenced people’s dislike for her to some degree, but I’ve seen her in Panic Room (she’s not bad but it’s not a huge part), Adventureland (she’s pretty good) and Still Alice (she’s excellent), so I’m now half-expecting greatness from her as she matures and gets more experience.
Anyway! I am keen to see this and your review has made me even keener. I had a really good holiday in the Swiss Alps a couple of years ago so I’m keen to see the mountains and valleys on film too.
Hi Stu! I suppose if you haven’t seen her in Twilight I could see why you didn’t think she’s terrible. I actually gave her the benefit of the doubt when I saw her in Snow White n The Huntsman but her acting is basically the same as in Twilight! But fortunately she’s really good in this one, she really changed my mind about her though I wouldn’t call myself a fan just yet.
I’d LOVE to go to St Moritz one day, man this movie could practically serves as a travel video for the Swiss Alps!
I saw this one at the Sarasota Film Festival a few days ago and loved it. I am in full agreement with this review that this film is easily oe of the best film released this year.
I thought this film was terrific. Ruth didn’t mention this – but it does add to the complexity as well as the legend that this film will become. Twenty years ago Juliette Binoche starred in the French Film Rendezvous. The writer of that film was Olivier Assayas.
It is as if the film and the real lives of both Binoche and Assayas, layered one upon the other match this film almost perfectly.
Great review Ruth.
Hi Mike! Glad to hear you love this too. That’s a cool trivia about Binoche and Assayas! Thank you for that, I can see how both of them tackled this story in such a wonderfully-layered way.
I’m so READY to see this! You know I love Binoche, and I’m interested to see Stewart and Moretz – both underrated I think – in something like this. Thrilled that it’s one of your favorites of the year so far!
You’ll love this one Josh! Binoche looks so beautiful here and her performance is just wonderful! Iove the rapport between her n Stewart, I totally believe their relationship. Yes, this one and Girlhood would likely make my final top 10.
Great to see you warming up to Stewart! I liked her for a long time now and the vitriol she was getting was so hateful and undeserved considering she has been giving wonderful performances in indie films for a while now
Hi Margaret! Yeah I might’ve been unfairly judging her based on those Twilight movies. The actors could only be as good as the writing, and really, most of the other actors in that franchise were much worse than her (esp Taylor Lautner!). It seems that both her and Robert Pattinson have done good work in indie films, good for them as they’re both quite talented.
I think you’ll love this film, I’m just thrilled there are female-centric films about complex female characters being made.
Great review, Ruth! Very, very curious about this one.
I think you’ll love it. If you had been a skeptic about Kristen Stewart, I think you’d be pleasantly surprised.
Looking forward to it, then.
And you love Juliette Binoche right? Really, who doesn’t … and she’s fantastic here, as always!
Yeah, she always delivers!
I haven’t seen this but it sounds really good. I actually think Kristen Stewart is very talented. She just doesn’t play ball with the whole being s starlet thing and that gives people the hump.
Well for me, I didn’t like her because I didn’t think she could act. I mean she looked so nervous in the three films I saw her in, and she basically just twitches and stutter in every scene. This one she seems more confident and I actually believe her in the role.
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