Clouds of Sils Maria ★★★½


Second viewing, no change, though I moved Kristen Stewart from Supporting Actress to lead and her performance is now officially my favorite of the year (so far) across all four categories. What cinches it is how little acting Valentine does when she's running lines with Maria—her register doesn't alter in the slightest, yet she's still clearly giving a performance rather than just providing cues, which only serves to wind Maria up further. I'd like the film considerably more if I could find a coherent place for Jo-Ann Ellis in this dynamic of vulnerability and power, or if Assayas seemed to even vaguely understand Hollywood celebrity culture. (One can charitably interpret the superhero movie as parody, but I honestly have no idea what the hell is going on with the talk-show appearance that has a laugh track straight out of Happy Days.) And I'm still fuzzy on the meaning of the double-exposure rock video that exists on its own aesthetic island—if it's intended to foreshadow Valentine's disappearance, it's less effective than is the identical walking-up-the-ridge shot early on with Maria and the widow, which escaped my conscious notice the first time. But every moment that Stewart is onscreen fascinates. Somehow, she manages to come across as subtly Machiavellian without visibly doing anything; it's as if Pinter and Losey had made The Servant naturalistically.

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