“‘It’s fucking brave,’ says Valentine (Kristen Stewart) in defense of actress Jo-Ann Ellis’s (Chloë Grace Moretz) performance in the latest Hollywood big-budget goofy sci-fi superhero flick,” begins Mallory Andrews in Cinema Scope. “Her comment is directed at her employer, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche, typecast as a legendary French actress), but it could very well be a salvo against Stewart’s detractors regarding her own onscreen vampire-romancing exploits…. A former superhero movie player herself (‘I was Nemesis’), Maria is offered a part in a revival of Maloja Snake, the Sapphic two-hander that made her world-renowned at the tender age of 18…. The catch? This time she’s been cast as the tragic older woman, with tabloid It-girl Ellis tapped for the scheming ingénue…. Valentine’s rehearsal line readings from Maloja Snake are stilted when compared against Maria’s, but that’s on purpose. Clouds of Sils Maria is a career best for Stewart, going toe-to-toe with the always formidable Binoche.”
The Dissolve‘s Scott Tobias agrees that Stewart “is a revelation, proving that the same disaffected air that has led critics to dismiss her as flat and vacant can be deployed with subtlety and purpose. [Olivier] Assayas leaves audiences with a lot to unpack, but I’m not convinced that he’s worked his misshapen film out entirely.”
“The pleasure in watching Clouds of Sils Maria becomes a linguistic one as Binoche and Stewart masterfully sharpen their words and hurl them at each other like projectiles out of a blowpipe,” writes Diego Costa at Slant. “The friction between Binoche’s gravitas and Stewart’s unintimidated response to it make for a fascinatingly quiet drama. This is in large part due to the brilliant way Binoche animates her English lines so differently than her French ones—as if she knows to keep her shit storm in a bain-marie for the Americans, and can’t help but let her hysteria eke out in her mother tongue. Stewart is surprisingly self-assured as both a punching bag and launching pad for Binoche’s tour de force. Stewart’s acting strength lies in the way that she doesn’t try to mimic Binoche’s complexity, instead remaining resolutely an American, from the vulgarity of her tattoos to the putative plainness of her insights regarding the play.”
“Like Irma Vep, still my favorite of his films,” writes Fernando F. Croce in the Notebook, “this is a fleet comedy where people move like drops of mercury against a referential backdrop of screens and masks, with an analytical melancholy replacing the earlier film’s roving energy even as the French director clearly has fun whipping up glimpses of TMZ-style gotcha! videos and CGI-laden superhero blockbusters.”
“Assayas digs deep into the subtext of a celebrity culture that puts an expiration date on its female stars and values youth above all else,” writes Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com, and yet he finds that “too much of the commentary on celebrity culture feels forced (especially when Moretz’s paper-thin character comes into play) and the overwritten aspects of the script push up against the more honest work by Binoche and Stewart.”
As for the Wire‘s Joe Reid, “while I sometimes worry that I’m overly harsh towards Moretz, she’s honestly just out of her depth here, unable to sell anything about her character, a Lindsay Lohan-inspired talented trainwreck who comes to represent everything about the industry that threatens Binoche…. The director spoke of this long-gestating project as once intending to cast Stewart in the Jo-Ann role and Mia Wasikowska as Valentine, a swap that would have probably done wonders for both characters and both actresses.”
Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn has a good long talk with Assayas. Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.
Update, 10/8: “Persona and 3 Women and Mulholland Drive are wonderful movies, spectacular even, for their aesthetic daring and empathy,” writes Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot, “but ultimately they are films by male tourists, gazing with terror, delight, lust, and envy at the Island of Woman. With the overall invigorating Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas takes another curious glance across the ocean, and his film, more humane than demonlover (if not as purely emotional as Clean), continues the trend of making films about women that are equally about play-acting and performance, but Assayas’s unfussy style and adroitness at casually zeroing in on empathetic moments between people brings down to earth what could have been an overly high-concept drama about a woman in crisis.”
Update, 10/11: “Assayas’s digs at actorly pretentions and anxieties are rooted in a genuine empathy for his protagonist’s insecurity that she’s being left behind, and that like her character in Maloja Snake, she may become so passé that she’ll simply disappear,” writes Nick Schager in the Voice. “The recurring sight of the actual Maloja Snake—a cascading cloudbank that navigates Sils Maria’s canyons—speaks to those notions with a subtlety and grace that’s indicative of the film as a whole.”
Update, 10/12: Melissa Anderson for Artforum: “Throughout Clouds of Sils Maria, the ingeniously cast performers refract and reflect their own off-screen personae—so much so that when Assayas, Binoche, and Stewart appeared onstage at the Walter Reade Theater, a line of dialogue from another sublime hall-of-mirrors production popped into my head: ‘I seem to have lost the reality of the reality,’ says Myrtle Gordon, the mercurial stage actress played by Gena Rowlands in John Cassavetes’s Opening Night (1974), one of several key predecessors for Assayas’s movie. My disorientation during the Q&A ended, however, when I noticed, right around the time that Stewart said that Assayas’s script ‘was an interesting commentary on the world I live in,’ a brawny bodyguard standing vigilant in the wings.”
Update, 10/21: For Indiewire, Greg Cwik talks with Binoche “about her acting philosophy and the unreliability of the internet” and much more.
Update, 11/18: From Jordan M. Smith at Ioncinema:
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