Clouds of Sils Maria

Though the film is fascinating in several aspects, I saw this film for one reason: to see if all the hype about Twilight’s Kristen Stewart was legitimate. A young actress who became something of a laughingstock for her limited expressions has won the French equivalent of the Oscar (the César) for Best Supporting Actress. Can that happen? Are the French just crazy here, as in the Jerry Lewis mode?

No, they’re not. Stewart, who began to erase her Twilight persona with a sensitive performance in last year’s Still Alice (the film that won Julianne Moore her Oscar), completely nails her part here in this French/German/Swiss production. If not worthy of the award (and I wouldn’t know), it’s certainly worthy of attention and of giving this young actress another much more serious look.

The film itself is undoubtedly worthy of greater attention than I will pay here. It’s a feast for the eyes, and I wish I’d seen it on the big screen; some of the images are stunning. It’s also a treatise on age, perspective, Hollywood, art, the theatre, and human foibles in general. There are mysterious elements that will keep people guessing and second-guessing for years. There are echoes of Juliette Binoche’s own life and career all the way through the film (she has the female lead) that could provide grist for the real life/art life mill for ages.

Binoche’s character is asked to take the part of the older woman in a play in which she performed the young girl part years ago. Stewart plays her young assistant, so the parallels begin. (Real life has the director of Clouds, Olivier Assayas, being the cowriter of the film that brought Binoche to stardom years ago. And the parallels continue.) Of course, Binoche is exquisite, as she belongs to that rarified category of actresses who can almost do no wrong on film (see also Judi Dench and Helen Mirren, among others). Her scenes with Stewart are nearly hyper-realistic and ring with connection and truth.

So if you’re interesting in stunning cinematography, meditations on aging, questions of identity, and even questions of “what’s real here and what might not be?” this is worthwhile. As a showcase for an actress that was a joke a few years ago and who is proving herself to be an accomplished performer with great potential, it’s a must-see.

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About Mark DuPré

Full-time (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Part-time film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 40 years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I preach, teach, counsel, write and plan in my real job. I teach a subject I love at RIT in my "other job," which is a lot of fun most of the time.... I play piano for our local college choir, and sing and play at church occasionally. I also have a film-related website at www.film-prof.com.
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