Being rich, famous and having to remember just a few lines your whole life sucks, you know?
Aging actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is most known for her role in an adaptation of Wilhelm Melchior’s Maloja Snake. Many years have past, however, and Maria is already starting to feel insecure and irrelevant in today’s day and age where people are made up to celebrities for simply just doing “stuff”; they don’t have to actually have any sort of talent. Maria doesn’t like this side to movie-making that’s been plaguing society for the past couple decades or so, but she doesn’t hide away from it, either. That’s why when she hears news that Maria’s career-making role is now going to be played by young, brash and fairly controversial American actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), she’s none too happy about it, but yet, still accepts the offer, if mostly for the money. While Maria may not have her old role, she still has a new one and starts to prep for it with her loyal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart); who seems to admire a lot about Maria, but also realize what’s come of today’s movies and accepted them for what they are.
I’ve sat on this review for awhile. It’s not because I didn’t think my opinions on it were so popular that they had to be thrown out there for everybody else to read while it was being praised beyond all belief; it’s mostly due to the fact that I needed some time for myself to rack my brain about how I actually felt about it. By the way everybody’s been going on and on about it, surely there was supposed to be something here that I wasn’t supposed to just like, but love, praise and shout about to the high heavens.
However, after watching Clouds of Sils Maria, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just can’t do that no matter how much I’d like to think otherwise.
A part of me, however, does like to praise this movie for giving a no-bullshit, low-key take on current day Hollywood and film-making. Olivier Assayas is a smart writer, as well as director, who clearly seems to be getting to a point about how far movies have fallen from being about the art or even the craft, and much more about making money, getting notoriety, and making sure that a public persona is made out to be all good, clean and kind, so that no skepticism comes around. In a way, Assayas takes a very cynical look at this idea and while he could have just attacked Hollywood and left it at that, he takes it a slight step forward in criticizing the whole grand spectrum of film. From the directors, to the writers, to the actors, to the assistants, and sure as hell to the PR departments, too, everybody gets a scathing mention fro Assayas and it’s interesting to see what he has to say about them.
But then again, when you take into consideration the actual deliverance of these thoughts and ideas, the movie does’t fully work. The reason being is because all of what Assayas does here, doesn’t really hit hard at all. What he’s saying is interesting and definitely deserves to be heard, but the way in how he actually frames them all isn’t – not to mention, none-too-subtle whatsoever.
For instance, there’s a brief sequence in which we see Maria check out what this Jo-Ann Ellis girl is all about and decides to type her name into Google and see what wonderful things pop-up. Needless to say, because Ellis is made out to be a mixture of Lindsay Lohan and, well, Kristen Stewart actually, we are treated to various footage of Ellis acting like an ass, hitting paparazzi with her high-heels, sleeping around, not making any sense in public interviews, and generally seeming like a terrible person to work with, let alone be around. Once again, it’s an interesting and almost genius way for Assayas to make us seem like we know everything we need to know about this character, but it goes on for so long without ever trying to show us anything new, that it feels like Assayas can’t let go; he’s so angry at whom this character represents, that he doesn’t know when to take a chill pill, let it all simmer down, and have her tell herself to us.
This isn’t to say that Moretz isn’t fine in this role, because she totally is. She nails down what it’s like to be young and curious about the world you’re thrown into, yet, at the same time, still have no idea how to handle it all, either. The only problem is that she’s treated to a character who feels so surface-material that the only semblance of sympathy we get from her is that she feels slightly bad for her boyfriend’s wife finding out about them two shacking up.
Wow. Such a lovely little lady she is.
And what happens to Moretz here, sadly, happens to both Binoche and Stewart as well. Although both are a lot better off because they not only take up the main-frame of this movie, but seem to generally be willing to go as far and as deep into these characters as humanly possible. Especially in the case with Binoche, who may be playing a little too close to who she really is in real life, but given that she’s able to make Maria seem like someone who generally cares about her career and the movie world itself, she gets a pass.
Regardless though, Binoche is great in this role; like with Michael Keaton’s portrayal of (basically) himself in Birdman, we get to see an actor who seems in on the joke of what this movie is trying to pass-off, yet, still give a heartfelt, complex into the mind of somebody who is trying so hard to stay relevant in current day media, but also doesn’t want to stoop too low, either. Maria wants people to respect and adore her like they once did some years ago, but also realizes that in order for people to recognize her again, she may have to take some high-paying gigs that’ll make her look like a fool, but will still also allow for her name to be passed-around. While Binoche herself may not have hit the deep-bottom like the character she is portraying, it’s still compelling to watch as she, sort of, imitates life through art.
Same goes for Stewart who, after all these years, finally seems happy to be settled-in a world of film where she doesn’t have to please dozens and dozens of screaming teenagers. And because she’s the first American actress to ever win the César Award, there’s already a lot of talk surrounding the work she does here, so there’s that. While the performance may not be as ground-breaking as I expected it to be, it still finds Stewart in an interesting role that shows her to be both cool, charming and a likable presence.
The only problem with this however, is that the performance is wasted on a barrage of scenes that not only push the limitations of one’s patience, but seem to be the same thing, told over and over again.
There are literally, a handful of scenes where both Maria and Valentine are looking over the script and working on it, but at the same time, also seeming like they’re constantly making subtle hints surrounding what they’re relationship together may or may not be. Are they just work-partners? Or friends? Or hell, lovers? The questions are up in the air throughout all of the times these two practice the script that Maria has to perform, but Assayas constantly seems to go back to these scenes, as if he had no other way of portraying this challenging relationship.
At one point, the movie jumps into to talk about how that some of the mainstream pieces of junk we see nowadays are ruining most of our minds and nothing but wastes of time. However, on the flipside of the coin, the movie boldly brings up the fact of how some of these mind-numingly silly and stupid action flicks can sometimes take chances with their stories and themes that smaller, more independent flicks do. This is an interesting complex that the movie creates, but it seems wasted on the fact that Assayas doesn’t know where to go with this idea, except just present it, and allow for his very talented actresses to take the cake home to the baker with it. For the most part, it’s an experiment that sometimes can work, and other times, can’t.
However, that’s just me. Take it or leave it.
Consensus: With the acting pedigree of Binoche, Stewart and Moretz, Clouds of Sils Maria gets away with its less-than-subtle messages about Hollywood, the current day movie-making process, and how some actors have to lose a bit of self-respect to be remembered at all.
6 / 10