Maria has a successful acting career and her assistant Valentine but when a young actress interpreted a role in a new movie–the same role which had made Maria famous–her world starts to crumble. Haunted by her past life, she withdraws herself along with her assistant in Swiss town of Sils Maria.
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"Sils Maria" takes place in a glamorous, surface-level world of avant garde actors and playwrights, a world most viewers will likely have a hard time relating to - thankfully, the story is anchored by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart, who share terrific chemistry. Stewart, in particular, has never been better, and the scene of Binoche laughing at how seriously Stewart takes superhero movies is an all-time great.
I actually loved Kristen Stewart here. And for me to say that is unexpected. But her connection with Binoche is undeniable and her lines and her said "non-existent facial expressions" are wonderfully delivered here. That scene in the casino cracked me up. Oh and also, I need the sound of Binoche's laugh as my ringtone.
The old battle between Assayas the fluid, intelligent director and Assayas the clunky, on-the-nose writer, observing the world through discourse from a distant and privileged bubble. But I love that he loves women, particularly actresses—Binoche deserves the showcase she's given, and I'm a sucker for psychodramas where women characters double and merge. The ideas are strong and felt, even if the delivery is academic.
While the characters circle around a fictional drama - analyzing it, performing it, avoiding it, becoming it - they never quite feel alive in their own right. It's not just that the film is talky; it points out obvious parallels between actors and their characters rather than mining insight from their juxtaposition. Still, Kristin Stewart is fantastic.
A deconstruction of Petra von Kant, a Persona-like meta-drama about the difficult relationship between women, a reiteration of Irma Vep's anti Hollywood rhetoric (complete with a faux comic book-style blockbuster), a film about the "old wave" replaced by the new, a film about filmmaking (with several personifications of the director) and finally a Green Ray-like documentation of a natural phenomenon. A masterpiece.
Juliette Binoche does an exemplary job finding the space between ironic and earnest, where most of us reside, and she offers so much, so subtly, in terms of how she charts an arrival at occupation of her time and place, the way the titular weather formation inhabits its valleys. She is ridiculous and profound (real). Assayas doesn't have much to say about our world here, but he occupies that world masterfully.
Time, metaphysics, different ways of "passing," this Assayas surprised me. The opening shaky train shot of K.S. establishes an immediate sense of instability, an instability which becomes more conciliated once the self-reflective inquiries become more pronounced. At one point, Assayas almost out-Kiarostamis Kiarostami, one of the great homages in recent cinema. Textural layering, spiritual mystery, & that last shot!
Assayas' essay on actors' approach to their craft and our society is good, but too elusive to prevent greatness. Kristen Stewart proved (to those who still needed) that she's an accomplished actress who has a lot to give to the industry. All in all, Sils Maria is interesting enough to follow along, yet lacking the depth of superior filmmaking.