Clouds of Sils Maria
by George Wolf
Somewhere between Twilight and the tabloids, Kristen Stewart began doing some real acting. She’s better than ever in Clouds of Sils Maria, and though hers is a supporting role alongside one of the screen’s major talents, Stewart pulls plenty of weight in a terrific drama with much to say.
Juliette Binoche is customarily excellent as Maria, a famous actress returning to the stage in a revival of the play that launched her career twenty years earlier. This time, though, she’s playing the older female lead, while a Lindsay Lohan clone named Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz, striking just the right tone of clueless entitlement) is taking the role Maria originated.
Stewart is Maria’s ever-present personal assistant Valentine, who not only runs both errands and lines for Maria, but serves as her bridge to a younger generation.
Writer/director Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours) takes the intimate psychological playground of Polanski’s Venus in Fur, and laces it with the pop culture commentary of Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars. Binoche and Stewart swim gracefully inside the play within a play setup, slowly moving Maria and Valentine in directions that mirror the script both characters are reading.
The actresses display an easy chemistry, never more apparent than when Valentine is trying to sell Maria on the merits of young Hollywood. In the film’s most deliciously meta moment, Stewart might just as well be telling all of us Twilight haters to get over it already.
Assayas’s script is sharp and his camera is fluid, effectively blurring the line between onstage and off. Revisiting the play forces Maria to confront her past and question her present, and Binoche reveals the various layers with a gentle, masterful touch.
The beauty of Clouds of Sils Maria lies in its subtle complexity. It offers sly insights that sneak up on you, and an exceptional cast to make them stick.