‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ is a film that is written, directed and produced by men, yet is it ultimately a two hour essay of the stereotypes of women at various stages in their lives. In their late teens, women are cruel and selfish like Joann (Chloë Grace Moretz) or “Sigrid” a character in the play ‘Maloja Snake,’ they are confused in their 20s like Maria Enders’ (Juliette Binoche) assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart), or they are past their prime and really insecure about it like Maria or the character in the play “Helena.” Credit where credit is due, there is clearly something going on beneath the surface. There are some implications that the women do not fit so neatly into their stereotypes. Valentine and Maria at least talk about (“show” or “express” seem to be too strong descriptions of what was actually happening on screen as they imply something actually vivid or interesting happened) different interpretations of the play as Valentine helps Maria rehearse her lines. There is even a moment of ambiguity that could have been quite mind-blowing. Unfortunately everything leading up to that moment was mostly bloated, expository dialogue and this caused the effect to be completely lost. It comes down two the pop can metaphor. Writer-Director Olivier Assayas spent so long shaking that can of pop that when it finally opened it there wasn’t so much as a hiss.
There are plenty of things this film could have done to improve the viewing experience or make it a little intriguing beyond the premise. They could have added dialogue that was more than expository. They could have cast plenty of other actresses other than Kristen Stewart to play a character featured as heavily is Valentine. Sure, there are some people out there who think that audiences should just give her a chance. Well, she’s been given several. The best thing that can be said about her performances in ‘Snow White and the Huntsman,’ ‘Camp X-Ray,’ and ‘Still Alice’ is that they were slight improvements over her most infamous role. That’s just a bar so low it has to look up to see the ground. Against other actresses like Anna Kendrick, Chloë Grace Moretz, Haillee Steinfeld, Zoe Kravitz, Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley, and several others; Miss Stewart doesn’t bring anything great to the table. Her performance in ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ is even worse than her performance in a certain high grossing franchise, despite her César Award victory. She has a lot of lines. People can understand which words are coming out of her mouth, but her delivery is barely more intelligible than an insipid mumble. Stewart shows almost no feeling or emotion whatsoever. The closest she comes is when her character smiles. It is not joy or amusement she expresses, but mild discomfort from having to smile. There is dialogue that is clearly supposed to be playful banter or emotional arguments, but Stewart’s delivery is so flat that neither manifests on screen.
Juliette Binoche and Chloë Grace Moretz effortlessly give decent enough performances with what they are given. There is just too much dialogue that feels more like the characters are writing essays rather than interacting with one another. Moretz’s subplot feels more like a bloated distraction rather than something that fits into the story or has any significance. There’s even a bloated epilogue that does nothing but take away from the effect of what could have been a mind blowing moment. It would have been much more effective if the film had ended at that particular moment instead of going on and on and on an epilogue where nothing really happens except a lot of expository dialogue that gives no explanation as to why audience members sat in a theater for just over two hours. The excess of expository dialogue does nothing but cause people to lose interest. There is a potential for something intriguing in all of that crap, but the possibility that there is subtext doesn’t make this movie worth watching. It just makes people relieved when it finally ends.