Film Reviews

REVIEW: Clouds Of Sils Maria

Reviewed By: Jack Dawson
Image Credit: ReelGood.net

The Clouds of Sils Maria might be one of the most badly-made pretentious films I’ve ever seen. There are a lot of films that can be accused of pretention, but only a few are so badly made on a fundamental level as this piece of work.
It is also a film with a certified Fresh rating of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes, so what do I know?

An Ageing actress named Maria Enders (Julliete Binoche) has just finished filming on one of many new Superhero films, and travels with her Personal Assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), to an awards ceremony in Europe. However a close friend and playwright named Wilhelm Melchior commits suicide, and she is hit hard by the loss. In an effort to honour his memory, and at the bequest of a young Director with a great passion for the project, she agrees to star in a restaging of one of Melchior’s plays that launched Maria’s star.

So, let’s get the niceties out of the way. The main strengths this film can boast are its scenery, which is beautiful, and the chemistry between its two leads, which is genuine. Kristen Stewart proves that when she’s given good material to work with, she plays a wonderful low-key deadpan snarker of few words. And Juliette Binoche has a firm grasp on her character and the nuances inherit to her, and the friendship between the two sparkles with genuine affection and ribbing. Both Women were nominated for Césars (the French equivalent of an Oscar), and both thoroughly deserved it.
It’s a shame nothing else in this film quite measures up.

This film has the worst editing I have ever seen, whether it’s sudden jumps in the conversation which are sporadic and ill-chosen, or the truly baffling scene of Valentine driving home, which has multiple layered shots and blaring music.
But the last nail in the coffin of this film is the way that nearly every single scene fades in to black and out to black, often while the characters are still talking.
Every. Single. Scene.
I was ready to scream by the hour and a half mark, and my spirits where not lifted when I realized I still had half an hour left, especially when it felt like an hour could have been shaved off without losing anything.
I actually saw The Room at Luna outdoor cinemas the night before (I’d had a rough week and needed a laugh), and it struck me that the editing in that movie is actually far better than the editing in The Clouds of Sils Maria. At least the editing in that film kept the momentum going, fit the tone of the film, and had the good grace to not distract us from the fascinatingly bad performances.

The story struggles so stay afloat as well, and I felt like the two leads who I praised earlier were trying in spite of their lines to portray a relationship. The play that Maria Enders is trying to restage is a nebulous piece that seems tailored to fit the story here, and I can’t help but feel that it would make for a boring play in real life. Curiously though, while great effort is spent on fleshing out the characters of the play, very little time is spent on the pasts and motivations of the main characters in the film. One could argue that the play is meant to inform our understanding of the characters, but my reply is that it would be a lot more effective to see how similar these fictional characters are to our protagonists rather than be told how similar they are.

But the absolute Nadir of this film, outside of the appalling editing, is the pastiche of Comic book movies in the second act (Yes there are acts that are separated by title cards. It is just as hokey and out of place as it sounds). It is so insultingly lazy that I completely gave up on this film, in the same way that the film makers seemed to.
To my knowledge, there is no Comic-Book movie in existence that would dress its protagonists up like human Candies, use such cheap and uninvolving sets, and stage important and dramatic revelations in such a dull and routine manner as this film suggests.
It’s not an effective pastiche or satire since it addresses none of the common tropes of Comic Book movies (no, not even bad comic book movies), and it actively harms the story since Valentine looks like a moron for being so passionate about a movie that would be laughed out of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.
You know you’re in trouble when the likes of the Scary Movie franchise executes a more meaningful parody than you do.

This probably isn’t a bad film, and the many accolades that it has won proves that this film has won a lot of people over. But I haven’t seen a film that enraged me like this in some time, and I don’t believe it uses its time or resources effectively. Ultimately, I get the feeling the Director would rather be making a play, with its emphasis on dialogue-driven scenes and limited framing. I actually think the result would have been genuinely compelling, and I wouldn’t be so enraged to see yet another Fade to Black.

The Clouds of Sils Maria is showing at Luna Cinemas.