An intriguing Chinese box of a movie, this slightly too-clever drama unpicks the layers of identity that are concealed behind the image of a celebrity. It's so knowing that it can't help but find revelatory meaning here and there, and the performances are raw and fascinating. There's also spectacular scenery and some darkly swelling emotions. But the themes are pushed a bit too hard, and the plot is enigmatic and oddly unresolved.
At the centre is Maria (Juliette Binoche), a famous actress who is aware that as she ages she's entering a new phase in her career. She's headed with her personal assistant Val (Kristen Steward) to a special event in Sils-Maria, Switzerland, to honour Wilhelm, the director who made Maria a star. But Wilhelm dies just before they arrive, so the event turns into a memorial instead. At the funeral, theatre director Klaus (Lars Eidinger) approaches Maria about starring in a new version of Wilhelm's iconic play Maloja Snake, which refers to an unusual cloud formation in this Alpine region. But this time Maria would play the older woman, while rising-star Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz) takes the ingenue role that sparked Maria's career. While Jo-Ann catches headlines for her bad-girl antics, Maria asks Val to help her get a grip on the alien older character she will be playing.
The story spirals out from here with swirling angles of meaning, as the play within the film becomes entangled with the contrasting public and private lives of the celebrities. Thankfully, even though everything is very pointed, the actors deliver remarkably off-handed performances that are very easy to identify with, revealing their characters' private thoughts and insecurities. There is of course also a further meta-level to all of this, as Jo-Ann's paparazzi-baiting lifestyle echoes experiences Stewart herself has had.
Continue reading: Clouds of Sils Maria Review
This sharply well-made French drama tackles an offbeat chapter in history with real skill, although the densely populated screenplay and fragmented approach to storytelling makes it difficult to engage with. Essentially a series of relatively disconnected sequences involving young people coming of political age, it offers plenty of material for the actors to grab hold of. But making sense of the overall story is difficult.
The period in question is the early 1970s, in the wake of the student uprisings of the late-60s. Just outside Paris, art student Gilles (Metayer) joins the anarchist movement with his friends Alain and Jean-Pierre (Armand and Conzelmann), littering the streets with anti-establishment fliers and bombing buildings with graffiti. But when one stunt goes wrong, they're forced to hide out for the summer in Italy with other activists. With his girlfriend (Combes) in London, Gilles starts seeing Christine (Creton). But she leaves with another guy, forcing Gilles to re-evaluate everything about his life and his dreams for the future.
Gifted filmmaker Assayas packs the film with references to iconic books, movies and artists, as these young people develop their own sense of who they are and what kind of art they hope to create. But this adds a level of literary intensity to the film that's not easy to join in on. Instead of indulging in typically teenaged hedonism (like the Americans they meet along the way), these kids are eerily serious. They can't just enjoy music and sex: it has to mean something profound for them.
Continue reading: Something in the Air [Apres Mai] Review
Nansun Shi, Jude Law, Olivier Assayas, Robert De Niro and Uma Thurman - Johnnie To, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Nansun Shi, Martina Gusman, Robert De Niro, Linn Ullmann, Jude Law, Uma Thurman and Olivier Assayas Cannes, France - 2011 Cannes International Film Festival - Red Carpet for 'Les Beins-Aimes' and Closing Ceremony - Arrivals Sunday 22nd May 2011
When he enters the pro-Palestine terrorist cause in the early 1970s, Venezuelan-born Ilich Sanchez (Ramirez) takes the name "Carlos". For the next 20 years he's one of the most feared figures in Europe, organising attacks and then hiding out in Yemen, Syria and Sudan, or anywhere else he can find asylum.
From assassinations to bombings to hijackings, he earns his reputation for ruthlessness but also alienates his boss (Kaabour) by refusing to take orders.
Continue reading: Carlos Review
The silver-haired matriarch of this subdued clan -- the antithesis of the tribe of lunatics in A Christmas Tale -- is Hélène (Edith Scob), a one-time art-world staple. Her three children are just about as different as three siblings can be: There's flighty Adrienne (Juliette Binoche), a designer of sorts living in New York; young and ambitious Jérémie (Jérémie Renier), who works for Puma Sneakers in Peking; and nostalgic Frédéric (Charles Berling), the eldest, an economist who doesn't believe in economics. Sentimentalist and stubborn nationalist that he is, Frédéric laughs his mother off when she tells him he will have to sell the house when she dies, insisting the house will stay in the family.
Continue reading: Summer Hours Review
Sandra (Argento) spends the first push of this dismal film talking background with Miles (Madsen). and even in these stagy environs, Argento's unkempt sleaze permeates the entire scene. Miles speaks about his new wife and kids but can't help but fall for Sandra, with her hand placed playfully between her thighs, asking him to say the word "slave" over and over. Later, she talks about how an encounter with her ex-flame put her off of Lebanese cuisine, not long before she strips down to black panties and strangles Miles with his belt while giving him a handjob. Then she shoots him full of bullets.
Continue reading: Boarding Gate Review
Project overseers Emmanuel Benbihy and Tristan Carné wanted to create a cinematic map of Paris, with each short film representing one of the city's 20 arrondissements (neighborhoods). They ended up with 18 films, none of them more than a few minutes long and directed by a glittering, international roster of filmmakers. While none of the films here are anything approaching masterpieces, hardly a one is in any way a chore to sit through, which has to be some sort of an accomplishment.
Continue reading: Paris, Je T'aime Review
There is one scene in Clean that sticks out to me. A supremely-groggy Nick Nolte sits at a small fast food joint and gets a small salad and water while Maggie Cheung (playing his widowed daughter-in-law) goes up to the counter and orders a monster burger, french fries, and onion rings with a large coke. It's her first real meal since getting out of prison and it's his first meal with her for god knows how long. There's a lot of symbolism, even though it's simple, being used in the scene, and it gives depth to a complicated relationship (everyone thinks she Courtney-Loved her rocker boyfriend). How did director Olivier Assayas, a seasoned pro, allow this to be one of the scant few scenes that hold any real fascination? Furthermore, how did he allow himself to write something so damn drab and insipid?
Emily (Cheung) spends the first 15 minutes of the film being the annoying Yoko to Lee (Nick Cave dead ringer and cohort James Johnston), an aging rocker trying to get a deal for his anthology. She gets nabbed for heroin possession just when she finds Lee's body but is saved by Lee's manager. Out of jail after a quick stint, she meets with Albrecht (Nolte), her father-in-law who has been raising her son Jay with his wife. It's apparent to all involved (besides Jay) that Emily needs to get clean, get a job, and take custody of her child. The journey is held up by a brief stint in Paris where she still takes pills, gets fired from a job and finally begins to detox after her musician friend Tricky (playing himself) ignores her requests for help with the custody issue.
Continue reading: Clean Review
You better damn well like plates if you're going to suffer through the three hours of Les Destinées, an exhausting family drama about a porcelain empire and just as hard a flick as its subject matter.
Continue reading: Les Destinées Review
Rendez-vous begins with aspiring actress Nina (Binoche) fresh off the boat in Paris, where she immediately falls into bed with both real estate clerk Paulot (Wadeck Stanczak) and his in-your-face roommate Quentin (Lambert Wilson). Soon enough, secrecy is put aside and the whole affair becomes a messy conflagration of emotion and raw sexuality.
Continue reading: Rendez-vous Review
Alternating between French and English, the film hinges on the duplicitous dealings of Diane de Monx (Connie Nielsen), a merciless businesswoman who kicks things off by drugging a fellow employee in an effort to move up the corporate ladder. Now firmly ensconced as second in command at the Volf Group, Diane begins negotiations with animation giant TokyoAnimé, the world's largest and most successful producer of high quality sex cartoons. Diane is, in fact, a double agent working for rival firm Mangatronics, who - recognizing that a deal between Volf and TokyoAnimé would put them out of business - have hired her to sabotage the ongoing talks between the two companies. Unfortunately, despite a veneer of poker-faced iciness, someone is on to Diane's plans, and she suspects that either her antagonistic coworker Elise (Chloë Sevigny) or hunky negotiating partner Hervé (Charles Berling) is the villain attempting to blackmail her.
Continue reading: Demonlover Review