written and directed by Olivier Assayas, starring Juliet Binoche and Kristen Stewart.
A very good movie about an aging actress, Maria (Binoche), and her personal assistant, Val (Stewart), who have their ups and downs as Maria prepares for a stage role in a play she first performed in twenty years earlier. Then she played the conniving and even cruel young bitch, now she is to play the mature, knowing woman. It’s all seriously meta, but the problem is that Maria can’t quite see through to that, preferring to see both Val and Joanne (Chloë Grace Moretz) as the ingénue she can’t admit she might have been—something like Irene Papas as Elektra in the 1962 and then Klytaimnistra in the 1977.
The first thing that needs to be said is that Kristen Stewart gave an amazing performance, and though I doubt I’ve seen the films for which the other actresses were nominated nominated, she has to have deserved the César award that she won in France. See the movie just to see her. I’m not a Binoche-hater, but Stewart stole every scene they shared and then some. Not to give too much away, but when she’s not on the screen, the movie seems to go seriously wrong.
The second thing I’ll note is that is that the movie is built on a decent premise (the actress and her PA practicing for a play that pretty accurately depicts their current real-life circumstances), but still and all seems awfully obvious at times. I can’t help but wonder that it would have been helped along if there was just one line spoken by either actress acknowledging the strange roles which they find themselves playing. Would that have seemed to obvious? Maybe, but it’s so obvious already that by not mentioning the obvious parallels both women seem impossibly or at least unlike-ily unprepared for the problems they experience.
Another thing I’ll note is that Assayas has made decisions with his direction that are sometimes questionable, sometimes just plain lousy. The just plain lousy includes a driving scene (Kristen Stewart, through the Alps) in which time and travel are emphasized by means of double exposures alternating between close-ups of the driver and the car in a fog … the whole thing is right out of TV series episode from the 50s. Also not so hot are shots of some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, the Swiss Alps, included in a series of postcard-like profiles that seem completely listless. The best shots were borrowed, black and white archival footage from a documentary eighty or more years old.
Still another thing I’ll add is that there are more threads left hanging than I can see on my ten year old shirts. What happened to the actor with whom Maria first shared the stage years before? What about the piece of paper she handed him as he was stepping out of the limo? What about the wife of the deceased playwright? What exactly happened between Val and her boyfriend? At times it’s all fairly frustrating, but for all that I still enjoyed it, a lot. It might be the meta aspect of it all, even if I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the end, and it might have been the many good choices I think Assayas made (matter of fact portrayals of technology such as phones and ipods, as well as the new media, plenty of Girardian perspectives on desire, unfussy dissolves between scenes) … and of course that Stewart performance was just excellent. See it to see her, as well as a fine story and some tired old shots of the Alps.