Welcome back to the FandomFlix Weekly Streaming Review! In this second edition, we’re taking quite a turn from last week’s look-back at National Treasure.
With Kristen Stewart’s next movie, Underwater, releasing this weekend, I wanted to get into one of her more critically lauded roles. And that’s how I landed on Clouds of Sils Maria, currently available on Netflix.
Much like her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson, Stewart’s career has been oft-maligned by her involvement in the fantasy vampire series. And yes, the Twilight movies are awful, every single one of them. But make no mistake about it, Stewart is a great actress. So it’s sad that those movies did her no favors, giving her a poorly written, under-developed character.
Once she had a chance to move out from under the shadow of the Twilight stigma, she had more of a chance to showcase her considerable talents. And while she hasn’t shown a consistent ability to pick good projects, she at least has been able to hold her own on an individual performance basis. And that brings us to Clouds of Sils Maria.
Clouds of Sils Maria stars Juliette Binoche as veteran actress Maria Enders and Kristen Stewart as her assistant Valentine. Two decades prior to the film’s events, Enders starred in a play that propelled her to stardom. The play, “Maloja Snake,” featured Enders as Sigrid, a young employee of an office who has an affair with her boss Helena. Sigrid is manipulative and eventually drives Helena to suicide.
Clouds of Sils Maria follows Maria as she prepares to take on the role of Helena in a revival of “Maloja Snake.” Maria departs with Valentine to the Sils Maria region in the Swiss Alps to prepare for the play. While there, they hike, run lines, and have intimate discussions about life and their own interpretations of the play; with the latter two often intersecting. And that’s really where the meat of the story comes in.
With Maria and Valentine’s relationship, you start to see parallels between these two and Sigrid and Helena. They’re rehearsing lines and you’re not sure if it’s solely the play shining through, or if it’s now real life imitating art. This fact is compounded when the story introduces the actress cast as Sigrid, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz).
On the surface, Jo-Ann comes off as Sigrid personified. She’s a young, up and coming actress, has been involved in numerous scandals, and yet still seems to charm everyone she meets.
The comparisons are fairly obvious, but it makes them no less engaging. It comes down to these three women each giving powerhouse performances. There’s something alluring about seeing talented performers doing nothing but play off each other for two hours. Clouds of Sils Maria is a character driven movie consistently driven forward by conversation. The most exciting thing anybody does is hike through the gorgeous Swiss Alps.
When Maria and Valentine aren’t prepping for the play, it’s one conversation after another. That may not sound all that enticing, but if that’s not usually your kind of movie, I’d encourage you to rethink it for this one.
In addition to the fantastic acting, Clouds of Sils Maria explores deep themes while constructing three distinct, and equally interesting, character arcs. And if you’re looking for evidence that Kristen Stewart is more than just “that emotionless less girl from Twilight,” Clouds of Sils Maria should leave no doubt.