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Thursday
Jul 30 2015

Clouds of Sils Maria.Or,How To Act Like a Star.

With Clouds of Sils Maria on DVD now,here's Kyle Stevens on actors playing actors.

If you're a reader of The Film Experience,亚博主页then you're probably no stranger toJuliette Binoche,who arguably has more masterpieces to her name than any other actor in cinema history.Binoche became a bona fide French star with André Téchiné'sRendez-vousin 1985,which was written by the now celebrated director Olivier Assayas.Last year,Binoche asked Assayas to write something for her so that they might again collaborate.He came up with the astoundingClouds of Sils Maria.

Their film follows the great star Maria Enders as she struggles to accept playing Helena inMaloja Snake,a play written by her recently departed friend.The difficulty for Maria is that she first became famous playing the ingénue role,Sigrid,decades earlier,and so,the role of Helena forces her to confront her feelings about aging,feelings compounded by the fact that,within the play,Helena desires and resents Sigrid.To make matters even more baroquely complicated,Helena and Sigrid's relationship mirrors Maria's interactions with Val,her personal assistant,coolly played by Kristin Stewart.(Eventually,Chloe Grace-Moretz appears as a third bone-faced brunette,younger still,to play Sigrid.)

Given the laurels recently heaped upon flamboyantly reflexive turns inBlue JasmineandBlack Swan,is it too much to hope that Binoche will leave the red carpet well-worn come awards season—even if the early release and critical attention for Kristen Stewart make that seem unlikely now?[More...]

Binoche gives us a deluge of tears,heartwarming belly laughs,impeccable drunk acting,and a humdinger of a spit take.Just watch her tell stories in the way she knows sycophants want to hear: refined,name-droppy,and with a hint of dirt.It's a master class in how to act like a star.

Indeed,if you're a fan of The Film Experience,亚博主页then you're probably no stranger to movies about stars and the art of acting,either.Acting has been a favorite cinematic subject at least since King Vidor'sShow Peoplein 1928,and provided fodder for great films,includingWhat Price Hollywood?(1932),Stage Door(1937),A Double Life(1947),The Bandwagon(1953),Day for Night(1973),andPostcards from the Edge(1990).(This list is by no means exhaustive;let's list more in the comments!) These stories afford opportunities for actors to "metaperform,"that is,to perform characters performing.

Metaperformance often generates a sense of depth,because we imagine different desires and feelings going on at the same time in the characters' minds—and probably because most of us spend much of our days feeling like we are a person performing a person.Perhaps the narcissism of this cinematic impulse reveals itself in the way these movies tend to follow diva figures,those sublime paramours we love,and also fear a little.They are mercurial,tempestuous,fiery,and all those other elemental adjectives we lay folk use to describe unabashedly passionate types.(And why not?Emotions are like the weather;there's always something going on.)


For obvious reasons,Sils Maria's clearest homage is to the greatest of all films about actors,All About Eve(given the ambiguity of Val and Maria's rehearsing and "real"relationship,there's a healthy dose ofWho's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?in there,too).InAll About Eve,Margot Channing and her (seemingly) obsequious young assistant Eve Harrington's rivalry also plays out in the theater,the stage being the readymade metaphor for what all the world is.Sils Mariailluminates that Margot and Eve needed each other—we can't have stars without fans and vice versa.Yet whileAll About Evenames the threat after Christianity's original sinner,here,there is a force external to the pair.The titular clouds take the form of a snake that hovers over and winds its way into the world of both women,marking the presence of nature and the passing of time.Like Margot,Maria wants to continue playing young women.Is she resisting Helena's age?Her lesbianism?Can they even be distinguished when youth is the object of attraction either way?Youth gets attention without even having to ask for it,and,in this sense,is already like being famous.The ingénue is,to the diva,greedy.Maria worries she will be forgotten,and to be forgotten is to die a little.

Sils Mariaphrases the rivalry between star and fan,employer and employee,at the level of performance,too,in Binoche and Stewart's competing realisms.Binoche dramatizes the labor of acting,how coming to know the self of a character is almost as painful as coming to knowledge about one's self.Binoche cries,screams,and improvises,trying all manner of approaches until she hits on the gestures and intonations that harmonize with her sense of the character.This analytic approach clashes with Stewart's/Val's jeans easy clarity.Val intuitively sounds compelling when reading lines.She flaunts this talent,needling Maria by attributing it to her youth and innocence.Youth accepts.Age deals with.Moreover,Marianeedsinterpersonal encounters to be difficult.If they are as simple as Val makes them out to be,then we don't need great actors to help us understand them.

And this is the rub.Binoche's Maria knows too much to welcome life like Val,and yet she can't stop being jealous,since the prospect of more life is still the best thing to have.(I'll refrain from talking about the way one notable event might bear on this reading so as not to spoil the surprise for anyone.) Maria Enders shows no less fire or fight than Margot Channing,but nor does she downplay how tiresome,how frustrating,this situation becomes,as in this exchange,which sums up her plight:


Maria: Do I think too much?Am I too classical?

Val: I don't know.You.Y-you can't be as accomplished as you are and as well rounded an actress as you are and still expect to hold on to the privileges of youth;it just doesn't work like that.

Maria: Oh.So I'm allowed to not be old as long as I don't want to be young,is that it?

Val: Yeah,I don't know.I guess so.

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Reader Comments (22)

I just really have to say here that Binoche was BY FAR best in show in Clouds of Sils MAria for me.I was completely uninterested in Stewart or Moretz and they really disappeared whenever she was on screen.I literally cannot remember a single line or reaction that Kristen Stewart gave and yet she is enjoying all the accolades and I can't cope.
I just don't get it.Is it ageism?The surprise factor from her not being bad in it?What is it specifically that got her so much attention in it.In a way I'm happy because that means that hopefully another actress enjoys the glory of character acting and maybe there are some legit knockout performances in her future but that Cesar,for me,had absolutely no justification.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

Tony T: My feelings exactly on the performances.I think Stewart was fine but not as standout as is being made out,and Binoche put in the awards worthy turn.My guess is the surprise factor for Stewart.I thought she was better in Camp X-ray.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

Tony,that's partly why I wanted to write this!Binoche was OUTSTANDING!I think Stewart's cool flirtatiousness and sex appeal drove some critics to distraction.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

Thanks for writing this - I finally watched it earlier this month,and I thought that Binoche was magnificent While I suppose it's unlikely,I wish she'll be remembered in awards season.Hers was the best performance by an actress I've seen in 2015.I thought Stewart was ordinary,and don't get her Cesar at all.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

To add to your list;"Opening Night","The Last Metro","Imitation of Life","Margaret".

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterDan

All great,Dan.I adore "Opening Night.""French Lieutenant's Woman"is another big one.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

This is great,makes me want to revisit a film that I liked but didn't love.Agreed with all commenters: Binoche was the one element that knocked me off my feet.Nothing against Stewart,but second-best performance was the clouds.I hadn't initially noticed the ALL ABOUT EVE reference,which now seems so strikingly present.I'd been more in tune to its nods to PERSONA.A dream triple-feature,methinks.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterZach

That WOULD be a dream triple-feature,Zach!I also noticed the "Persona"stuff,but if I'd written about it,this would've turned into a book.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

I would read that book.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterZach

Binoche is life.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Zitzelman

Can Mulholland Dr.count as a movie about acting?I think so and it´s one of the greats!

July 30,2015 | Unregistered Commenterhaajen

I enjoyed Kristen Stewart tremendously,but agree--it was supporting,after all,and what made her performance award-worthy at all was the fact that she could reflect off of Binoche.I LOVED Binoche in this.Has she ever been more endearing and complex?Her cackling over superhero movies will probably end up being one of my favorite movie moments this year.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

Of course,"The French Lieutenant's Woman",great scene within a scene as in "Sils Maria",good going Kyle.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterDan

How many masterpieces would you say she has to her name?I'd say 3 only: Lovers on the Bridge,Blue and Cache.Red doesn't count because she only appears for 3 seconds...

3 masterpieces is not bad at all and some of her French peers(Huppert and Adjani) wouldn't be too far behind.Meryl Street has zero masterpieces to her name,even though there are many Manhattan fans out there.I'd say Julianne Moore has 3: Far from Heaven,Boogie Nights and Children of Men (Safe is to me a great small film).Anna Paquin has 2 (The Piano,Margaret),but what masterpieces they are!Same can be said about Gong Li's 2 (Lantern and Concubine).


Shelley Duvall is the one actress who holds the record of being in 3 masterpieces only 2 years apart (Nashville,Annie Hall,3 Women).

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMr.Goodbar

I loved both actresses and i think both enabled the other to be so good.It's no coincidence that Kristen Stewart impresses when she is given something and somebody of substance to work opposite.She did the best she could with Twilight's dialogue and the plank of wood she was acting with in Rob Pattinson,but put her opposite Julianne Moore,Binoche.Jodie Foster,James Gandolfini etc and people soon forget about Bella Swan.Binoche is a delight.I would never have thought they would complement each other so well but it goes to show what can happen when you think outside the box.

I long for more movies like this and await Assayas' new movie (written especially for Kstew!!!).I hope Juliette comes on board.

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterLeann

Its MARGO Channing!!!not Margot!!...Thank U v Much!lol

July 30,2015 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

Leann,that is such a great point.The sign of a great actor is the ability to listen and respond authentically to the actors you're working with,and Kristen did just that in Sils Maria.Of course,she's still too young to reach the heights of Binoche,but she is on the right track.

Also,all those actresses you mentioned--Binoche,Foster,Moore--have been EXTREMELY complimentary of Stewart and have heaped lots of praise on her for her acting talents.When she's working with top talent,she soars.When you're working with Twilight,it doesn't matter if you're freaking Meryl Streep.No one could make that dull,uninteresting piece of dreck even remotely compelling.

July 31,2015 | Unregistered CommenterAaron

Hi,Mr.Goodbar (I've been searching for you): I think Certified Copy and Flight of the Red Balloon are masterpieces--and possibly Summer Hours.It's subjective,of course.Perhaps it would be less provocative to say that she's worked with more global auteurs than any actress!

July 31,2015 | Unregistered CommenterKyle

Well,I'd certainly agree that Certified Copy is a masterpiece,and would also say that you can't mention Binoche's masterpieces without mentioning Camille Claudel 1915.

Personally,I'd like to see both Binoche and Stewart getting Oscar nominations this year for Sils Maria,which is still my best film of 2015 so far.

July 31,2015 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

Camille Claudel 1915 is top 3 Binoche material,along with Bleu and The Lovers on the Bridge

July 31,2015 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

What Tony Burno Kyle and Caroline said.

Stewart = Solid
Binoche = Mesmerising

July 31,2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Completely agree !
Stewart was good,but Binoche was great.We nominated her last year for Best Actress on movieparliament.com

August 3,2015 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

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