Posted by Jill Boniske aka Arty Chick on May 22, 2015
The first I heard of Clouds of Sils Maria was the news that Kristen Stewart won the French version of the Oscar (the Cesar) for her supporting role in it, the first American ever! I just saw the film and I am scratching my head. Not that she is bad, but it just isn’t a standout role, even for her. And lest you assume she speaks French, which would be a feat worthy of a prize, the film is mostly in English with leading lady Juliette Binoche slipping into her native tongue on just a few subtitled occasions. The film is the story of the evolution of a relationship between a famous actress Maria (Binoche) and her young assistant Valentine (Stewart) as they rehearse for a revival of the play that started Maria’s career. It is an arty movie, somewhat Bergman-esque. There is a LOT of subtext and the line between the play and their real life becomes blurry at times. There are also beautiful moments and poignant scenes. And while everything is not spelled out, it is a thought-provoking look at the way our perspectives change with time.
Valentine is a 21st century smartphone-toting executive assistant, catering to every need of her high-profile megastar boss. As the film begins they are on their way to Zurich to accept a prize for the author of the play that made Maria famous. But he dies before they arrive, and not so coincidentally a hot young director is there who talks Maria into starring in a revival of that very play. The play is about the balance of power in a lesbian relationship between an older businesswoman and her young protege, and though there is none of the sexual in Val and Maria’s relationship, it is impossible not to see parallels in the ways the play within the film mirrors their dynamic, as they hole up in the dead author’s alpine chalet to run lines. Maria has a hard time getting into the older character, since she originated the younger one and felt that the power of the play was all in her hands. But time has moved on and Val tries to get her to see the play from a new vantage point. It isn’t easy for either of them, even less so when the actress for the younger role is cast (Chloë Grace Moretz) — a Lindsay Lohan-ish tabloid bad girl that Val thinks is fabulous and Maria thinks is a joke.
Clouds of Sils Maria is definitely not a film for the mainstream crowd. It is self-indulgent and slow in parts and the landscape as metaphor felt a bit heavy-handed at times, but there were scenes and themes that did speak to me. The idea that we see things differently from different vantage points in time and age, if we let ourselves, is a humbling message. I’d recommend this one for the art film set. Fans expecting Kristen Stewart to remain in her YA Bella mode will be disappointed. She is good in the film, and after this and Still Alice, I’ve decided to give her a lot more credit as an actress. But I’m still not convinced she deserved a prize for this role.
And here is Ms. Stewart’s acceptance speech, just in case you are interested, and just to show she doesn’t speak French, nor is she very interested in learning.