After winning a series of major awards for her role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), Kristen Stewart reunites with the filmmaker for this offbeat movie, which intriguingly blends personal drama with ghostly horror. The resulting film may be rather difficult to pin down, but it's relentlessly fascinating, drawing the viewer in through clever visuals and Stewart's superbly internalised performance.
It's set in Paris, where Maureen (Stewart) is working as a stylist for an arrogant red carpet celebrity (Nora von Waldstatten). But Maureen is actually there because her twin brother recently died of a heart condition they shared. And since he was a believer in the spirit world, the sceptical Maureen hopes that he will give her a sign from the afterlife. So her job is just there to occupy her while she waits. And she's taken aback when a completely different spirit contacts her. She considers running off to join her boyfriend (Ty Olwin) in Oman, but as a witness to a horrible crime, she can't leave Paris. And the ensuing stress seems to open her up to further supernatural interaction.
Where this story goes is so clever that the audience often feels lost. Assayas is a filmmaker who doesn't like to make everything obvious, so we're left to understand the events on our own terms, and take from the movie whatever we find. In this sense, the film has a gorgeous tone, with fascinating visuals that add subtly inventive special effects to the emotional mystery. The central point here is that Maureen has never been completely honest about her feelings, only expressing herself through her fashion sensibilities. And maybe now it's time for her to pay some attention to herself. Both Assayas and Stewart do a terrific job conveying the honesty of her spiritual journey and the emptiness of the expensive clothes and jewellery that surround her.
Continue reading: Personal Shopper Review
Maureen Cartwright works as a personal shopper in Paris to some very high profile people. Her job is to choose and purchase some of the most beautiful of designer pieces for her clients, even if that life is far from the one she craves. It might seem glamorous, but for Maureen there is something on her mind that goes deeper than sequined gowns. Her twin brother died at a house in the French city, and 95 days later she's waiting for him to contact her. They had made a pact with each other once upon a time that whoever died first would send the other a sign from the afterlife. The only problem is, Maureen can't be sure that the vaguely unusual things she's been experiencing have been down to his presence - that is until her biggest client Kyra is murdered in her home.
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Maria Enders is an ageing actress whose best known role was that of Sigrid in the 20 year old play 'Maloja Snake'. The play centres on the relationship between two women - the young and manipulative Sigrid and her older boss Helena, who eventually commits suicide under Sigrid's destructive influence. Enders is now being scouted again for a revival of the production, though this time in the role of Helena. She is reluctant to take on the project, but does so with the encouragement of her trusted young assistant Valentine. Soon she meets a rising starlet named Jo-Ann Ellis who is to play the new Sigrid, but Maria finds her rude and as destructive as her forthcoming character. Soon the pressure and uncomfortable similarities to herself she sees in Jo-Ann get too much for Maria, who's already overcome with grief following her divorce and the death of a friend. Plus, she starts to feel like she could be losing Valentine, who's beginning to think there's something unhealthy about Maria's reliance on her.
Continue: Clouds Of Sils Maria Trailer
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
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