Execrable: Clouds of Sils Maria

Clouds of Sils Maria (2014)
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas
Produced by Charles Gillibert, Karl Baumgartner, Thanassis Karathanos, Jean-Louis Porchet, Olivier Père, Gérard Ruey, Antoun Sehnaoui, Martin Hampel, Maja Wieser Benedetti, Sylvie Barthet
Starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz, Lars Eidinger, Hanns Zischler, Johnny Flynn, Angela Winkler, Brady Corbet, Aljoscha Stadelmann, Ricardia Bramley

Lies and bombast:

“Any doubts about Kristen Stewart’s true acting potential are extinguished thanks to her surprisingly nuanced and mesmerizing performance in Clouds of Sils Maria.”

–Michael D. Reid, Times Colonist

“…this is a straight character piece, made dynamic by Binoche and Stewart’s powerhouse performances…”

–Chris Bumbray, JoBlo.com

“Stewart gives a striking performance in Clouds. Her character Val, a personal assistant and rock of Gibraltar to Juliette Binoche’s film and stage star Maria, is self-assured, crafty, honest, perceptive and even a little bit warm. It’s a 180 from the dead-behind-the-eyes Bella Swan, yet there’s the same flat delivery and crossed-arm presence. Here it radiates confidence, not Edward vs. Jacob indecision. Most of the film is just Stewart and Binoche in conversation, and Stewart more than holds her own.”

–Jordan Hoffman, Vanity Fair

“The relationship here is quite beautifully drawn, with Stewart again demonstrating what a terrific performer she can be away from the shadow of Twilight. She’s sharp and limber; she’s a match for Binoche.”

–Xan Brooks, The Guardian

“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.”

–Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter

“Stewart became the first American female actor ever to win a César for her performance. It’s deserved. She’s a revelation, reminding us that her talent has been eclipsed by Twilight for far too long.”

–Radheyan Simonpillai, NOW Toronto

“Ultimately, Stewart is the one who actually embodies what Binoche’s character most fears, countering the older actress’ more studied technique with the same spontaneous, agitated energy that makes her the most compellingly watchable American actress of her generation.”

–Peter Debruge, Variety

“Stewart is surprisingly self-assured as both a punching bag and launching pad for Binoche’s tour de force.”

–Diego Semerene, Slant

“Stewart is also at her best and convincingly conveys an important quality which so far has rather eluded her, a keen intelligence.”

–David Noh, Film Journal International

“…(Kristen Stewart, a deadpan revelation)…”

–David Ehrlich, Time Out

“This is the film that fulfills whatever promise Kristen Stewart has shown for more than a decade. […] As one-half of a dynamite acting duo in Clouds of Sils Maria, Stewart finally merits all the attention thrown her way. […] Stewart’s strength here is being the kind of actress we always suspected she could be.”

–Joe Neumaier, New York Daily News

“If the juxtaposition of “fascinating” and “Kristen Stewart” stopped you cold, this is the film that should, by rights, warm you up to her. […] Binoche, Stewart, and Moretz can disappear into their roles and at the same time stand outside them – a Buddhist ideal.”

–David Edelstein, Vulture

“Kristen Stewart is cool perfection as her assistant, giving as good as she gets despite the power imbalance in their relationship.”

–Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly

“A meditation on fame, acting, aging, and acceptance, Clouds is a multilayered rapture on the subject of woman, performing. Not only does the film demand repeat viewings, it rewards them.”

–Ty Burr, Boston Globe

Whether they were bribed by one or more of this movie’s numerous producers or distributors (one hopes that Les Films du Losange wouldn’t stoop to such iniquity) to disseminate fawning, fatuous falsehoods, or with venal idiocy convinced themselves that their blurbs above are at all accurate, the panegyrical deluge of these hacks ultimately amounts to nullity, much like Assayas’s overrated pap.

In her youth, an actress (Binoche) rose to prominence on stage, then screen in the role of a callously cavalier demoiselle seducing an established, married mother and inheritor of a troubled company, whose suicide eventuates when she’s unavoidably jilted. Decades later, a successful theatrical director (Eidinger) revives this play immediate to its author’s sudden demise, and invites the quondam ingenue — now frampold, flush with fame and fortune, and freshly divorced with her capable but trendily philistine adjunct (Stewart) in tow — to assume its tragic senior lead opposite a notoriously wayward Hollywood star (Moretz). Scene after scene of sophomoric, excruciatingly expository dialogue as amateurish as Stewart’s, Moretz’s and Flynn’s performances reflect just how incompetently Assayas scripted this mess and directed his cast. Binoche is palatable when she isn’t overburdened with leaden lines, yet heinously hammy in others. She affects a peevingly puerile swagger whenever her splenetic superstar’s tipsy, bobbing her noggin like Sam Waterston in an episode of Law & Order, perhaps to counterbalance the void with whom she’s paired. Again, every paid critic who lauded this movie is dishonest or deluded, because slouching, plankish, unbrushed, occasionally uptalking, stupidly tattooed Kristin Stewart cannot act, which is why she’s still monotonously reciting and volleying lines that she clearly struggles to recall. Nonetheless, she’s not so embarrassing as Moretz, whose clownish physiognomy consorts with her gushingly callow delivery, especially in confabulation with her boyfriend, a novelist gaumlessly enacted by Flynn with an inanimacy to rival or exceed Stewart’s. Eidinger represents his sensitive, dramaturgic visionary with a smooth virtuosity shared by Zischler as an aging actor whose personal and professional past is thornily entangled with Binoche’s, largely because they haven’t anything abashing to say. Assayas’s story and all who inhabit it are easily outshone by his and DP Yorick Le Saux’s majestic, wintery then vernal Alpine panoramas, and particularly therethrough the Maloja Snake, a magnificent climatic phenomenon of clouds creeping low and sinuate through the Maloja Pass.

Not too many years ago, Assayas was still parading talented leading ladies in unexceptional vehicles (Irma Vep, Clean, Boarding Gate). Wading into conceptual depths once occupied by heavyweights (Bergman, Mankiewicz, Truffault, Cassavetes) with adequate technique and thoughtful characterizations, his wretchedly corny, jejune verbiage reveal the limits of his intuition and intellect, and how poorly he interprets and contrives psychology. Insights only glint when Binoche’s histrion and Stewart’s subaltern grapple in labored, private rehearsals at and while hiking about its late dramatist’s chalet in pastoral municipality Sils Maria. One scene from a ridiculous space opera that they view in theater starring Moretz’s wild child drolly parodies mindless genre fare, but when Stewart subsequently agonizes to defend the movie’s thematic legitimacy to bibulous Binoche’s rident despite, they play off one other ticklingly, as they ought’ve throughout. Glutted with trashy scandals, ungainly and often reiterated oral histories for the benefit of a presumably obtuse and unmindful audience, hungover Stewart’s roadside disgorgement, and comparisons and contrasts of enduring erudite forms and an increasingly, rightly unpopular popular culture, this movie’s repeatedly distracted from its burden: how the interrelations of its characters mirror and affect facets of their professional roles, fictional and otherwise. Assayas treats of commonplace and promising themes fleetingly, or as inconclusively as so many of his fizzled discussions. Although it’s filmed well, this pic’s transitional pace is disrupted by its interstitial cuts, dissolves and fades, all as clumsily mistimed as its soundtrack’s bathetic application of beautifully dulcet, familiar movements by Pachelbel, Spohr and Handel.

All of the shills, favors and accolades paid can’t redeem this pabulum’s monetary losses (on a relatively small budget) and half-baked insipidity, however such artifices are manifest: its nomination for the Palme d’Or at Cannes; Stewart’s unduly awarded César (which only underscores its cultural irrelevance at this point); Chanel’s subvention in exchange for the conspicuity of their raiment, finery, maquillage and logo therein; prompt issuance of the Criterion Collection’s DVD and Blu-ray editions; simpleminded and superabundant reviews containing varieties of witlessly hyphenated terms prepended with “meta-.” All of this merely confirms that this cynically marketed product presented as filmic art has failed thoroughly as both.

Instead, watch All About Eve, Day for Night, Opening Night, or Sex is Comedy.

Author: rbuchanan

I'm an author, lexicographer, cacophonist, ailurophile, bibliophile, cinephile, logophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow, incontestable babe, borderline narcissist, weirdly semi-Mediterranean Native American, and alliterative anastrophe addict. My personality type is superlative INTJ.

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