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.

Favorites: Mauvais Sang

Mauvais Sang (1986)
Directed and written by Leos Carax
Produced by Denis Chateau, Philippe Diaz, Alain Dahan
Starring Denis Lavant, Juliette Binoche, Michel Piccoli, Hans Meyer, Julie Delpy, Carroll Brooks
Verbally and visually, Carax’s sophomore feature film is among the most beautiful yet produced, a tragic masterwork comprehending the auteur’s conceptions of impassioned folly personified by a brilliant cast and exquisite composition conveyed via Jean-Yves Escoffier’s photography of supreme resolution and bursting chromatic vibrancy. Exorbitantly indebted to a crime boss (Brooks), a career criminal reduced to recreance (Piccoli) and a natty former physician (Meyer) contrive to filch from the French branch of an American pharmaceutical multinational their culture of a lethal virus afflicting loveless coital partners with debilitating symptoms akin to those of AIDS, so to sell it to a rival firm. To circumvent the target corporation’s security measures, they enlist the abetment of a late accomplice’s son (Lavant), an alacritously adroit conman who exploits this engagement to desert his devoted dulcinea (Delpy), only to stumble into true love with his lesser employer’s lovely, kindly girlfriend (Binoche, as much a jewel of fragile pulchritude in her youth as she’s remained in middle age). This premise constitutes the plot’s nigh-entirety, but that vaccinal culture’s a mere MacGuffin of thematic accordance impelling characters yet never diverting Carax’s audience from so many crucial cesuras of ardent silence portending grief, disconcertion and adoration too infrequently depicted in cinema. Lavant’s withy, vital yet crude physicality artfully belies his recidivist’s romantic heart, betrayed by stirring soliloquies and the music of Prokofiev, Britten, Bowie and Chaplin to signify inexpressibly perfervid amatory swells. Not a frame of this picture isn’t gorgeously shot to beautify its localities and plurality of slickly executed devices: staggering smash cuts, decelerated and accelerated shots, momentary morsels of reverse footage, focal variance, an aerial stunt as flurrying as any from a Bond flick, and striking close-ups of shoelaces, tissues, telephones, elevator numerals, nimbly shuffled playing cards and every expressive physiognomy of its photogenic players. Curiously, many of of Carax’s early exponents derided and dismissed this love letter to the evanescent New Wave as a glossy pastiche of those most experimental styles prosecuted by its ornaments during that summit, disregarding that Godard’s contemporaneous output hadn’t a smidgen of the ambition evinced here. Nathless, Carax tantalizes eyes and emotions only to emphasize the fruitless fervor of unrequited love, caprices of which illustrate how those most indomitable obstacles crumble before obstinacy, terror neutralizes affection, inhibition relents before infatuation, and all probity is voided by these passions.

Execrable: Chocolat

Chocolat (2000)
Directed by Lasse Hallström
Written by Joanne Harris, Robert Nelson Jacobs
Produced by Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Alan C. Blomquist, Meryl Poster, Michelle Raimo, Kit Golden, David Brown, Leslie Holleran, Mark Cooper
Starring Juliette Binoche, Alfred Molina, Lena Olin, Johnny Depp, Victoire Thivisol, Judi Dench, Hugh O’Conor, Peter Stormare, Carrie-Anne Moss, Aurelien Parent Koenig
Viewers affected by glycemic disorders aren’t advised to view the most successful and saccharine of Hallström’s many syrupy features in a single sitting; conceivably, anyone prone to horripilation may also suffer convulsions of a severity thitherto unimaginable when subjected to this foul fable of a periodically migratory chocolatier (Binoche) whose animacy and perceptivity regarding her vendees’ adversities and sweet teeth endear her to the less subdued residents of a rigidly religious village in postwar France. Throughout Harris’s puerile story, every conflict is contrived, each character a caricature: a latitudinarian society of Mary Sues comprising Binoche’s errant artisan, her cute daughter (a heinously dubbed Thivisol), one battered housewife (Olin), a miserably cynical old bat (Dench) and her morbid drafter of a grandson (Koenig) resist the provincial proprieties imposed by the hamlet’s stuffily overbearing mayor (Molina) and the gauring, pusillanimous priest (O’Conor) under his thumb who assay the reclamation of a churlish publican (Stormare) to curb his domestic abuse by dint of penance and catechesis. A maternal bitch (Moss, presumably manifesting internalized patriarchal oppression) and daffily debonaire Irish Gypsy (Depp) merely incorporate another implausible clash and prerequisite love interest. Hopelessly trifled away by a director whose unceasing and seemingly obstinate ignorance of dramatic rudiments befuddles even the most hardened cinephile on an incorrigibly risible script, a respectable cast are reduced to the weirdly stilted yet hammy delivery now omnipresent in televised and cinematic productions: odious drama club theatrics revisited as professional pabulum. Launching the drearily perfunctory phase of his career that’s yet afoot, somnambulant Depp’s silly flourishes prove particularly peeving as yet another bathetically romanticized Romani — a portrayal of galling and specious political correctness proposed to patronize we Roma who know far better for the entertainment of whites who should. Numerous hokey hallmarks of Hallström’s glorified Lifetime picture wantonly layer treacle upon his unpalatably overproduced glop, especially shopworn narration paired with Rachel Portman’s cloying score to augur whichever few plot points aren’t predictable during the first act. A shred of depth is implied by the protagonist’s perpetuation of a ritual no more fruitful or righteous than those of her papal antagonists, but even this is enacted and duly resolved in as artless and obvious a manner as one could expect. Therewithal, whenever common flaws of a conservative society — which here hardly reflect the ethos of Gallic parochial life — are demonstrated in a work exuding typically trite Anglo-American convictions, deleterious phenomena such as spousal abuse and groundless xenophobia are trivialized, only addressed to safely vilipend a majority. This particular stamp of heterodox allegory might’ve been marginally subversive during the commercial culmination of Stanley Kramer’s popular propaganda forty-odd years prior, but by 2000 it was long since as dated as banal, another tired stab at Catholic tradition to propitiate aging suburban boomers and their guileless offspring, all weaned on the dissent of a counterculture long since expired and reanimated by corporate media entities. Yet to ostentatious hausfrauen, civilization began circa 1960; the Weinsteins craftily baited yet another hook for the gaping maws of a lucrative target demographic. Confections prominently snacked and snarfed appear ambrosial, but the contemptible subtext that Harris, Hallström, etc. peddle here is nothing save nauseous.