Monday, April 27, 2015

[Review] Clouds of Sils Maria

Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloe Grace Moretz star in Olivier Assaya's character drama about aging, fame, and the fortunate or unfortunate winds of time and change.

The film revolves around Maria Enders (Binoche) a high-profile international actress and her loyal assistant Valentine (Stewart)--who is nicely characterized as more of an influential friend than just a worker-bee. Maria currently is to be cast in a role of the play she starred in during the early bud of her career, but this time she's slated to play the older character, while a young starlet Jo-Ann Ellis (Moretz) will take on Juliette's former role. The 20-year-old is known for her Hollywood tabloid antics and blunt, foul-mouthed interviews, and Maria & Valentine debate whether she's a disgraceful mess or if she should be praised for being herself.

The film is staged a lot like a play itself--there's a lot of dialogue in one setting for big chunks of time (the whole first scene involves Maria and Valentine taking phone calls in a train car), and the vignettes transition with fade outs & fade ins. This aspect might underwhelm some and may prove to be trying over the course of the duration, but the substance is usually rich enough to stay involved. It's even divided into clear-cut Acts, and fortunately, each one takes on a new breath of life--Part Two opens with some Swiss mountain scenery, backed by a gorgeous score of strings.

And the acting is consistently splendid. Juliette Binoche turns in a fittingly wide-ranging performance that becomes multi-layered, especially considering the premise. Kristen Stewart has received a lot of flack for the whole Twilight thing, and the general public is probably mostly unaware of her real acting chops. Her recent indie streak (On the Road, Camp X-Ray, and Still Alice) has been pretty impressive, and in Clouds she's smotheringly good. The characters are interesting and full of depth--little bits of their personalities are skillfully revealed throughout, making them feel like well-rounded people with some soulful depth. They're all very different from each other, yet there are moments when they reflect like mirrors. And there's a subtle sense of humor to it all.

Undeniably, there are some slower stretches, and the story seems to peter out by the end, but even through that, we grow attached to this great, endearing duo. 


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