Hollywood tends to fall in love with itself, and thus we end up with numerous movies that are about Hollywood. While this can on paper seem like a bad thing we do end up with a lot of great movies about Hollywood. Just look at our most recent Best Picture winner in Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Although we do get our share of clunkers: the most recent Cronenberg film, Maps to the Stars, for instance. Fellow auteur Olivier Assayas is the latest to direct a film about Hollywood with Clouds of Sils Maria. Clouds of Sils Maria is not as much of a clunker as Cronenberg’s effort, but its portrayal of Hollywood is pretty disastrous. A campy depiction in a very serious film just doesn’t work, and it’s left to the actors of the film to save this movie (and they are unfortunately still not enough).
Clouds of Sils Maria follows the friendly but slowly turning romantic relationship between an aging actress (Juliette Binoche) and her young assistant (Kristen Stewart). As the aging actress tries to take on a new version of her breakout play she must contend with what the movie industry has become and slowly watch as her relationship with her assistant slowly becomes strenuous. While the plot is clearly not supposed to be this film’s strong suit, it is clear that Olivier Assayas (who both directed and wrote this film) is trying to use the plot as a vessel to some sort of allegorical meaning. Unfortunately, it’s just completely lost in translation. We end up with a paper-thin plot that ultimately doesn’t lead to any sort of thematic meaning or anything else noteworthy.
The film’s depiction of Hollywood is even more paper-thin than the plot. It’s as if Assayas has never been to Hollywood let alone worked within the system. At first the Hollywood elements of the film are so silly that you would think this is a satire on the Hollywood system. The rest of the film is so brooding, though, that anything satirical just doesn’t fit reasonably.
This film’s one saving grace is that it does get the most out of its actresses. Juliette Binoche is subtly brilliant while Kristen Stewart gets to do great work in an unlikely role for her. Meanwhile, Chloe Grace Moretz steals many scenes as a young star despite being stuck in the most ridiculous scenes.
Clouds of Sils Maria tries to say something about the Hollywood system but none of what it says gets to the audience.