Olivier Assayes’ Clouds of Sils Maria was the best movie about women you never saw last year. The story centers on two women in the middle of a publicity blitz as the older and established actress, Juliette Binoche, contemplates taking on a part in a play she made her name on as an emerging actress at 19. Back then, though, she played the young ingenue. Now they want her to play the opposite character, the matron, who generates a simmering sexual dynamic with the younger actress. This time around, Chloe Grace Moretz, a Lindsay Lohan type public figure is taking on the younger part. Kristen Stewart plays Binoche’s assistant who manages her life, keeps her updated on the changing world around her, and runs lines with her. The play within a play begins to bleed into the actual story so that, at some point, the lines become so blurred you can’t really tell what’s real and what isn’t.
Kristen Stewart more than holds her own with Binoche, and very nearly steals the movie. It’s a performance that won her the prestigious Cesar — the first American actress in 67 years to accomplish such a feat. Stewart’s assistant, she tells me in an interview last week, is many things to the Binoche character, including a mother figure. She also says there was sexual tension there, something I detected but wasn’t sure was intentional. Of course it would be intentional, given that the play within a play is about an older woman and a younger woman involved in an affair. As they read lines to each other, the plays seems to sometimes say what they themselves can’t because of various barriers, like Stewart is Binoche’s employee. Stewart’s character is also involved with a younger male character, but that world is kept off screen, something the film hints at but never directly confronts.
There are three women in this story — Moretz, Stewart and Binoche — each at different stages of their lives and careers. Moretz recalls (almost but not quite) a younger Stewart, whose private life behavior took on a life of its own in the press. As such, we see Moretz portrayed one way by the press, then we encounter someone who is not like that at all. Each woman dwells in the visible and the invisible, with Binoche being the one who matters in the earlier part of the film, with the Stewart character receding. When Moretz shows up, Binoche — and all of her fame and glory — seems to then disappear.
I loved this movie so much. It is so rare to see a filmmaker sink in and invest in women as though they are actual people with their own thoughts, careers, whole lives. I spoke very briefly to Stewart about this film. I was given a very strict 10 minute window, though honestly I could have talked to her for hours. She’s a smart and focused young woman whose choices in the films she stars in are careful, intelligent, and deliberate. I didn’t get nearly enough time to cover everything — and I wasted WAY TOO MUCH TIME telling her stuff about myself, which is embarrassing. So, sorry about that.
Still, I thought you all might like to hear the interview instead of my transcribing it. But you have to make a deal with me that you will disregard all of the dumb things I say, of which there are many. I am terrible at interviews which is why I hardly ever do them.