'Clouds of Sils Maria': What the Critics Are Saying
Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart star in the lauded Cannes film about a famous actress returning to the play that made her career.
Juliette Binoche stars as internationally famous actress Maria Enders who takes a role in the revival of the play that launched her career 20 years earlier and comes face-to-face with a rising young star (Chloe Grace Moretz), who provides an uncomfortable reflection of herself.
French filmmaker Olivier Assayas wrote and directed the film, which was nominated for the Palme d'Or award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Kristen Stewart also stars, and won the Cesar award for best supporting actress for the role, making her the first American actress to win France's equivalent of the Oscar.
Read what top critics are saying about Clouds of SIls Maria:
The Hollywood Reporter's Todd McCarthy says the film is “by turns wispy and sharply dramatic” and “benefits greatly from the magnetic and naturalistic lead performances by Binoche as the 40ish veteran, Stewart as her ever-present personal assistant and Moretz as a teen sensation whose time is now.” The majority of the film “is devoted to scenes involving Binoche and Stewart, sometimes with others but mostly alone, so for anyone who enjoys watching these two excellent actresses knocking it back and forth as their characters cope with the myriad issues surrounding a performing career, there is much to behold." The film "will be mostly of interest to aficionados of theater, acting and the notion of how real and fictional lives can blur to those involved."
The “arc of it all provides interesting insights into how actors choose and relate to their roles, as well as how real and fictional lives can merge and overlap.” Both Binoche and Stewart "seem so natural and life-like that it would be tempting to suggest that they are playing characters very close to themselves. But this would also be denigrating and condescending, as if to suggest that they’re not really acting at all. Their give-and-take and the timing of their exchanges, particularly in the rehearsal sequences, is wonderfully fluid and non-theatrical; Binoche works in a more animated register, which makes Stewart’s habitual low-keyed style, which can border on the monotone, function as effectively underplayed contrast."
The Guardian's Xan Brooks gives the film four out of five stars, writing, "If Assayas' film finally falls just shy of being great art itself, it is at least handsomely staged and played with conviction; like a lush A-list revival of skimpy B-list material." The director is "supple, playful and confident" who “is a successful man and he demonstrates that here, in both good ways and bad.” At its worse, the picture “feels like embedded film-making. It's a study of the artistic elite from a fully paid-up member,” but “it compensates with a warmth, compassion and authority of its own. ... The script has been polished and the performers rehearsed," while “the director draws back the curtains with a satisfying swish.”
New York Daily News' Joe Neumaier dubs it "the film that fulfills whatever promise Stewart has shown for more than a decade." The actress “finally merits all the attention thrown her way.” While a "terrific" Moretz is "right on the mark," Stewart's "shining turn is our way in." Her character, "with her overintellectualization of trivial popcorn movies and her deferential but controlling nature, is a modern creation.” The star's "strength here is being the kind of actress we always suspected she could be."
Time Out London's Keith Uhlich notes "part of the fun ... is watching Assayas put his own playful spin on the actor-centric metamovie" and, "It’s a pleasure to watch Binoche and Stewart play off each other." Assayas "allows their cryptic relationship — at once tender and apprehensive — to slowly develop in intensity and strangeness." However, the “story resolutions cast a retrospective pall over this slight fable, and rather than basking in a mystery illuminated, we question the logic of everything we’ve seen."
Kyle Smith of the New York Post gives the film only one star, calling it a "backstage drama that has all the sizzle of a glass of water resting on the windowsill." Though “in its general purpose the film resembles Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, you could as easily note that a Ford Focus and a BMW 528i have the same purpose as each other.” Director Assayas “evidently thinks he’s being daring and original and avant-garde in leaving so much open-ended. But you can tell what really interests him isn’t doing the work of a serious artist but the comfy trappings of one — the swank dining rooms, the posh cars with drivers always at the ready. What’s French for bourgeois? Never mind. [Clouds of Sils Maria] isn’t a film but an idea for a film — unfinished, unsatisfying, undergraduate."