Daily | Cannes 2014 | Olivier Assayas’s CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA

Clouds of Sils Maria

Kristen Stewart in ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’

Olivier Assayas‘s entertaining backstage melodrama applies the balm at the end of the 67th Cannes film festival,” writes the Guardian‘s Xan Brooks. “Over the past 10 days, the visiting dignitaries have been subjected to scenes of alcoholism and torture, incest and jihad. Clouds of Sils Maria, however, is here to right the applecart and reaffirm core principles. It tells the guests that great art is worth the struggle and that actors are a noble breed, a cut above the hoi-polloi. Small wonder they saw the thing off with such a round of applause.”

“Operating as a breezy echo-call back to Assayas’s 1996 film Irma Vep, the film is about the process of making movies from the perspective of actors, the emotional toil of immersing the mind in a role as well and also the logistical realities of creating art in the age of TMZ and cat lols,” writes David Jenkins at Little White Lies. “Much like his previous film, Something in the Air (about youth and post-’68 political malaise) this one also rejects a conventional structure to offer a meandering cluster of ‘scenes’ which culminate in a single character reaching a transcendent juncture of hushed grace.”

“After collaborating with Assayas on 2008’s perfect, albeit ultra-safe Summer Hours, actress Juliette Binoche challenged the director to write a part that delved into genuine female experience,” writes Variety‘s Peter Debruge. “Though deceptively casual on its surface, Clouds of Sils Maria marks his daring rejoinder, a multi-layered, femme-driven meta-fiction that pushes all involved—including next-gen starlets Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz—to new heights…. As the film opens, Maria [Binoche] is traveling with her assistant Val (Stewart) to accept an award on behalf of her close friend and mentor, playwright Wilhelm Melchior (a provocateur loosely inspired by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant echoes below the surface here). En route, while dealing with the particulars of her in-progress divorce, Marie receives word that Melchior has died, dredging up an unpleasant figure from her past, an old co-star named Henryk Wald (Hanns Zischler) whose stage-hoggy desperation provides a horrifying glimpse into where her own career could be headed.”

“Soon after,” writes Jessica Kiang at the Playlist, Maria “agrees to play the second lead in a restaging of Maloja Snake in which her original part will be taken by starlet Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz). [Maria] agonizes over this decision, trying to find her way in to the role of the older, weaker woman while the parallels between her and Val and the two characters in the play also become clearer.” In all, Kiang finds Sils Maria to be “a film that mistakes needless complexity for depth, and in so doing tells us time and again what it’s about—art vs life; aging; identity; female jealousy, manipulation and insecurity—without ever actually being about those things.”

Clouds of Sils Maria is less an All About Eve-esque tale concerning the loss of youth than it is about a greater movement in the craft and criticism itself,” writes Peter Labuza at the Film Stage. “This is what makes Assayas’s very stately and reserved approach (more Summer Hours than demonlover) still a surprisingly confrontational work in its gentleness.”

“At the center of the film is a two-person drama in which Maria and Val are secluded in a remote Alpine villa where Maria, still full of doubts, prepares the role of the older woman with Val doing the line readings of the vital young upstart,” writes Barbara Scharres at “It soon becomes unclear whether they are acting the play or playing at real life. The duality works at times and stands out in its excessive contrivance at others.”

“By turns wispy and sharply dramatic, Olivier Assayas’ English-language character study benefits greatly from the magnetic and naturalistic lead performances,” writes Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter. “Binoche works in a more animated register, which makes Stewart’s habitual low-keyed style, which can border on the monotone, function as effectively underplayed contrast. Moretz is all high-keyed confidence.”

And the title? The Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin explains: “On an autumn morning in Sils Maria, in the centre of the Swiss Alps, when the temperature and humidity are just right, hillwalkers might catch a glimpse of the Maloja Snake—a long, thin trail of cloud that slips up from the Italian lakes and pours along the mountain pass, heralding inclement weather to come.” All in all, Clouds of Sils Maria is “a complex, bewitching and melancholy drama, another fearlessly intelligent film from Assayas.”

Updates:Clouds is a typically smart, incisive, beautifully crafted analytical exercise from Olivier Assayas,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve. It’s “a relentlessly brainy film that more or less interprets itself as it goes along.” And as for Stewart, “Only someone with tremendous self-confidence could underplay so beautifully.”

At In Contention, Guy Lodge agrees: “Delivering the film’s most touching, textured performance, Stewart plays her gradual self-assertion beautifully, her signature underplaying building in light and shade, her sullen body language opening up as her co-star’s turns appropriately tight and uncertain. There’s a rueful twinkle, too, to her delivery as Valentine muses on the relentless pettiness of contemporary celebrity journalism.”

Binoche “adroitly handles the competition and collaboration of Twilight star Stewart, whose crafty lack of affect shows to fine advantage in what may be her most complex screen role,” finds Time‘s Richard Corliss. “Sils Maria needs a bit more tension in its telling—and a change of its confounding title.”

“Skilfully contrasting and merging past and present, maturity and youth, fame and isolation, fiction and reality, modernity and classicism, the film works like a charm and with a Zen skillfulness on the concept of ambivalence and of make-believe,” finds Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa.

“Moretz has a blast as the badly-behaved teen star although her thinly-stretched plotline peters out into a somewhat listless All About Eve-esque finale,” writes Matt Mueller at Thompson on Hollywood. “Still, her sequences do exude a goofy playfulness that Assayas perhaps should have tried implementing elsewhere in his feature-length musings on how a more erudite past has given way to our present-day tsunami of Google images, YouTube uploads and paparazzi packs, and the eventual annihilation of aging actresses by their younger counterparts. Ultimately, his satire ends up being too blunted to lift it above the clouds.”

Updates, 5/24: Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn explains why this new one from Assayas “presents an ideal access point to his other work.”

“As Robert Pattinson effectively proved in David Michôd’s The Rover (2014), Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria should go some way to rescuing his Twilight co-star from her teeny stardom and establish her as a serious actress in her own right,” writes John Bleasdale at CineVue. “It was brave to pitch her against one of the greats in Binoche, but it’s a move that has ultimately paid off.”

Updates, 5/25: For the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, “there’s something undeniably poignant about seeing Binoche—one of the world’s greatest living actresses—grapple openly with how the industry devalues women of advancing years. The themes are transparent enough that it’s a pity Assayas felt the need to actively, relentlessly underline them, his dialogue dismantling the subtext at every opportunity. Clouds of Sils Maria is smart, but also a bit too up-its-own-ass for my tastes. And while the Hollywood satire is certainly less cranked-to-11 than what David Cronenberg offered in Maps to the Stars, it’s not much more trenchant.”

Valentine “might just be the most interesting part Stewart, who’s often seemed uneasy with the demands of her Twilight Saga fame, has ever played,” suggests Alison Willmore to Buzzfeed. “It’s definitely the most self-reflexive, given how Clouds of Sils Maria is a story about Hollywood versus ‘serious cinema,’ experience versus newness, and how much or little an actor’s personal image can be separated from his or her work.”

Update, 5/26: “It all goes way back to my relationship with Juliette,” Assayas tells Manohla Dargis, who argues in the New York Times that Clouds of Sils Maria “will be rediscovered by viewers willing to sift through its depths and Mr. Assayas’s ideas on realism, the fast-changing world, fast-moving audiences and the fast-mutating cinema.”

Update, 5/28: “Here is a film that feels its age, the age of its maker,” writes Daniel Kasman in the Notebook. “Assayas is 59, and his Clouds of Sils Maria feels it. A unique thing, a movie that feels an expression of middle age, of considerate maturity, of a medias res—a favored storytelling technique for the director—movie very much aware of this age between the entitled, risk-taking energy of the young and the settled, comfortable wiseness the senior artist.”

Updates, 6/2: “There’s a theoretical specificity to why Assayas peppers his scenes with iPhone thumb swipes, Skype calls, Google Image searches, and immortalized YouTube paparazzi clips of Maria’s outspoken wild-child costar Jo-Ann,” writes Aaron Hillis for Filmmaker. “Like the serpent-like ‘Maloja Snake’…, time slinks away without pause, but modernity is a variable/culture/outlook that can only be grappled with in the present.”

“The camera appears enthralled with every move of Binoche’s sculpted frame within the carefully modulated mise-en-scène,” writes Jordan Cronk at Reverse Shot, “while at the same time the narrative allows for convincing deliberations on the evolution of acting and genre hybridization in contemporary filmmaking, topics which echo critical discussions regarding Assayas’s own rebellious past with such progressive works as demonlover and Irma Vep, the latter a particularly useful thematic corollary for his latest.”

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