Olivier Assayas' "Clouds of Sils Maria" is only the latest movie to be positioned as the one to redefine Kristen Stewart as a "serious actress." (See Sundance's "Camp X-Ray," most recently.) But based on the the first reactions out of Cannes, it sounds like it might actually stick this time. Some of us think she's been great all along, bringing a note of emotional realism and teenage discomfort to the otherwise weightless "Twilight" saga, but it seems to help that in "Clouds," she's excavating that persona from the inside out, playing the harried personal assistant to an established actress (Juliette Binoche) who feels threatened by a cocky young starlet (Chloe Grace Moretz) fresh off a successful supernatural franchise. Sharing scenes with an actress as great as Binoche might seem unwise, but Stewart apparently holds her own, and according to some reviewers, even prevails.
Reviews of "Clouds of Sils Maria":
Jordan Hoffman, Vanity Fair
Olivier Assayas' thoughtful and intelligent meditation on acting, fame, and age doesn't just offer Ms. Stewart the best role of her life; it grants her a moment at center stage to lay out, in eloquent yet non-didactic terms, a defense of actors in the kinds of movies that sound a heck of a lot like "Twilight." It's impossible not to imagine this as a K-Stew cri de coeur, a suggestion that those who have been slamming the "Twilight" films maybe should water down their haterade.
Peter Debruge, Variety
Stewart is the one who actually embodies what Binoche's character most fears, countering the older actress' more studied technique with the same spontaneous, agitated energy that makes her the most compellingly watchable American actress of her generation. Heightening the effect still further, Assayas uses the inescapable "baggage" of Stewart's offscreen persona -- from broken-marriage tabloid drama to a tossed-off eye-roll over the ridiculous rise in werewolf projects post-"Twilight" -- to slyly alter the movie's pH.
Delivering the film's most touching, textured performance, Stewart plays her gradual self-assertion beautifully, her signature underplaying building in light and shade, her sullen body language opening up as her co-star's turns appropriately tight and uncertain. There's a rueful twinkle, too, to her delivery as Valentine muses on the relentless pettiness of contemporary celebrity journalism. La Binoche isn't the only actress whose own career is under the magnifying glass here.
Mike D'Angelo, the Dissolve
Binoche does solid if sometimes slightly mannered work in the showcase part, but the movie ultimately belongs to Stewart, who wisely refrains from trying to sell Valentine’s Sigrid-like role in Maria’s life; it’s a relaxed and unshowy yet deeply felt performance, conveying volumes with fleeting gestures. Only someone with tremendous self-confidence could underplay so beautifully.
Peter Labuza, the Film Stage
Less an "All About Eve"-esque tale concerning the loss of youth than it is about a greater movement in the craft and criticism itself. This is what makes Assayas' very stately and reserved approach (more "Summer Hours" than "demonlover") still a surprisingly confrontational work in its gentleness. Stewart has been a strange property during her time in Hollywood, her talents as an actress mostly untested (or, better put, ignored) in the Twilight franchise, despite showing signs of promise in films like "Adventureland" and "The Runaways." Val is a complex role in which the actress never loses her real-life persona, instead embracing it to develop a dynamic with Binoche’s more classically moved performance.
Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter
Binoche and Stewart seem so natural and life-like that it would be tempting to suggest that they are playing characters very close to themselves. But this would also be denigrating and condescending, as if to suggest that they're not really acting at all. Their give-and-take and the timing of their exchanges, particularly in the rehearsal sequences, is wonderfully fluid and non-theatrical; Binoche works in a more animated register, which makes Stewart's habitual low-keyed style, which can border on the monotone, function as effectively underplayed contrast. Moretz is all high-keyed confidence.
Robbie Collin, Telegraph
Assayas' crisp and thoughtful script brilliantly blurs the lines between life and play. Binoche plays the role with elegance and melancholic wit -- her character slips between fiction and fact in a way that recalls her role in Abbas Kiarostami's "Certified Copy," although Assayas' film feels more rigidly constructed; not that that’s necessarily a criticism. But it's Stewart who really shines here. Valentine is probably her best role to date: she’s sharp and subtle, knowable and then suddenly distant, and a late, surprising twist is handled with a brilliant lightness of touch.
John Bleasdale, Cine Vue
There are no hysterics, or screaming rows. A subtle frisson of eroticism charges Binoche and Stewart's rapport, but again Assayas is discreet, fading to black and leaving it up to us to decide if anything actually happens in the interstices. Both actresses are excellent, with Binoche given more to do and she flips between attempting to get into the skin of her character and back to her normal self. Stewart, on the other hand, has an easy naturalism as she moves from devotion to rebellion without ever being able to fully express herself.
David Jenkins, Little White Lies
At the centre of the film is Juliette Binoche's moody, mildly shambling grande dame actress Maria Enders who leapt to fame at the age of 18 when she snagged the lead in a famous play. To help her through this metaphysically trying time is assistant, Valentine, here played by Kristen Stewart, who delivers a performance of immense poise and texture, retaining good humor in the face of a full-time position which involves being locked in the professional mindset of another woman.
Xan Brooks, Guardian
If Assayas's film finally falls just shy of being great art itself, it is at least handsomely staged and played with conviction; like a lush A-list revival of skimpy B-list material. The relationship here is quite beautifully drawn, with Stewart again demonstrating what a terrific performer she can be away from the shadow of Twilight. She's sharp and limber; she's a match for Binoche.
Zach Lewis, Sound on Sight
Its themes are promising and its execution is maintained in typical Assayas flourish, but the waves of direct exposition weaken at least the first act significantly. This problem solves itself with the introduction of Jo-Ann’s scandal and Maria’s mysterious acceptance of the brat's disturbing of her personal role. Once themes and ambitions have been well-established, the actresses are free to delve into them and dive at each others' throats.
Jessica Kiang, Playlist
We're as surprised as anyone, but the major acting laurels on this particular occasion go to, wait for it, Kristen Stewart, who for our money delivers the better performance (and the film is mostly a two-hander between her and Binoche) and actually manages to make some of the thankless exposition and clumsy dialogue she’s given sound almost natural. Perhaps it’s because she’s playing a character that is not a version of herself—as much as the film comments on Stewart’s fame and peculiar type of celebrity, it does so largely through the medium of Moretz's Jo-Ann character, and so Stewart is free to just play a part and not navel gaze quite so much. In her guise as a personal assistant to a star, she can deliver observations about the nature of teen fandom and say stuff like “there are a shit ton of pre teens, so watch out” and we can all chuckle at the thought of the rabid 12-year-old ”Twilight” fanbase, but she is doing it from the safe distance of a role that is clearly differentiated from her, and in which she is natural and unforced.