Most of us hear the name Kristen Stewart and groan: she of the bitchy-resting-face and bad vampire movies. It is a little known fact that Stewart has actually been in some rather decent flicks. Question is, is ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ one of them?
Firstly, ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ gets a fair leg-up from the other star of the movie, accomplished French actress Juliette Binoche (‘The English Patient,’ ‘Chocolat’). Chloë Grace Moretz (‘Kick Ass’, ‘If I Stay’) also contributes, though it is Binoche and Stewart who carry this film. Both provide decent performances, as we’d expect from Binoche, but I’ll discuss this a bit later.
‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ opens with Maria Enders (Binoche), accomplished actress (see the parallels popping up already?) and her assistant Valentine (Stewart) on their way to Switzerland for Maria to accept an award on behalf of her mentor, Wilhelm. On the way, they hear Wilhelm has died, so the award ceremony is quickly repurposed into a tribute ceremony. Various male characters are introduced as passing interests for Maria and Val, but none stick around for long. At the ceremony, Maria is wooed by director Claus into appearing in a remake of one of Wilhelm’s most famous plays, but as the older character, rather than the young woman she played 20 years ago. She and Val repair to Wilhelm’s home in the Swiss Alps, where he wrote the play, for Maria to rehearse.
Much of the second act of the film consists of Maria and Val discussing the play and its characters, and the audience can draw several parallels between the characters in the play and the characters on the screen. It’s a bit meta, and unless you’re really into that sort of thing – deconstructing your entertainment to get at the underlying themes, motivations and even deeper – you’re not going to enjoy this film. It goes on a bit about Maria’s inability to face her age, even though she’s quite sure she has, and her arrogance towards the younger actress Jo-Ann (Moretz) and her assistant, despite relying on them both, in a way. If you’re paying attention, you’ll realise that the film itself is a reflection of the play it describes, right down to the titles.
All the performances are good. Even Stewart, whose annoying habits of head-shaking and teeth-talking become part of her character, and despite these frustrations, she’s likeable as Val. Maria, on the other hand, isn’t as likeable. Binoche does an excellent job portraying the character’s complete self-absorption without making her a bitch or a villain. Moretz isn’t really noticeable: there’s nothing wrong with her performance, but nothing special either; she’s just there.
The film is rather sedate.
Regarding the film-making, there are a lot of fade-to-black transitions, which we don’t see much these days. The soundtrack is interesting: at first, it seems as if there won’t be one at all, but during Val and Maria’s hikes we’re treated to a few Baroque classics; though when Val is alone, she listens to Eurotrance.
The film is rather sedate. Nothing much seems to happen, and the ending is ambiguous, leaving us hanging and required to draw our own conclusions, exactly like Wilhelm’s play. To be honest, it deserves a solid “WTF?” at one point near the end, and all the scenes after that event ignore it completely. It’s really weird.
Overall, this might make a good film study for English majors, or those looking to see if Stewart can act, but other than that, it’s kinda meh. I didn’t like it, but I didn’t dislike it. It left me cold.