Clouds of Sils Maria (aka Sils Maria, 2014)

Aside from the pre-scheduled Criterion posts, there’s been slim pickings on this blog in recent weeks as I’ve been on holiday in the States and Canada, which means I’ve largely not been seeing films. However, I did catch up with one while over there.


I’ve always had the sense from the infiltration of celebrity gossip into news coverage that Kristen Stewart has been underrated as an actor, apparently on the basis of, I don’t know, her lack of a sunny Californian disposition? It’s obviously a shallow criticism, as even if you’d only been aware of her since her turn in Twilight (2008), she’s already proved her acting mettle many times (my favourite being the 2010 musical biopic The Runaways). Clearly French director Olivier Assayas has been attentive, as he’s cast her alongside acting heavyweight Juliette Binoche, and Stewart very much holds her own (though perhaps it helps that Binoche is called upon to deliver much of her performance in English). It’s a classic self-reflexive European narrative about actors and acting, about ageing and egos and a sort of psychic transference between the older (Binoche) and younger generations (Stewart, as well as Chloë Grace Moretz in a small role). Stewart plays Valentine, the harried but largely unflappable PA to Binoche’s Maria, a well-known theatrical actor who is travelling to Zürich to deliver a tribute to the (now-deceased) director who discovered her when she was a teenager. There’s something about the way it all unfolds with its narrative ellipses, its teasing character linkages and its self-reflexivity about the craft of acting and cinema, not to mention the mountainous Swiss setting (the film’s title is taken from a notable cloud formation), which reminds me of the Swiss auteur Alain Tanner and a 1960s/70s tradition of this kind of story. Clouds of Sils Maria hints at the boundaries between the real and the fictive in a playful, literary and engaged way, but leaves us on a questioning note, unsure of exactly how much has changed for its title character and those women around her.


© Les Films du Losange

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director/Writer Olivier Assayas | Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux | Starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz | Length 123 minutes || Seen at Cineplex Forum, Montréal, Wednesday 15 April 2015

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Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)


ADVANCE SCREENING FILM REVIEW || Director/Writer Jim Jarmusch | Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux | Starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, John Hurt | Length 122 minutes | Seen at Odeon Leicester Square, London, Thursday 6 February 2014 || My Rating 3.5 stars very good


© Sony Pictures Classics

The new Jim Jarmusch film starts on a turntable as a vinyl record spins, before cutting to matched shots circling first Tilda Swinton and then Tom Hiddleston from above, with them sprawled in poses of narcotic ecstasy in their respective homes. These are the doomed lovers of the title, Eve and Adam, and it’s a fitting start, putting us straight into the dizzying, woozy whirl of their lives. They move around a lot — he is based in Detroit, she in Tangier — but little really changes for them, for they are trapped in the eternal purgatory of being vampires, subsisting on packs of blood sourced from reliable local hospitals. It’s a film of beautiful textures — visual and sonic — and it feels almost autobiographical after a fashion, for the vampires are nothing if not artists, preying on millennia of culture as much as on blood.

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Arbitrage (2012)

First up, “arbitrage”. According to my learned sources, it’s a matter of taking advantage of price differences between markets to turn a profit. Our protagonist Robert Miller is a rich white man (a derivatives trader, or a hedge fund manager, or whatever; my knowledge of the financial world is incredibly meagre). He has all the problems attendant on great wealth. He has to deal with the potential loss of hundreds of millions of dollars (presumably from said arbitrage), which would jeopardise his company’s sale and make him poorer (though hardly poor in any real terms as experienced by the audiences for this film), his daughter is digging around his dubious accounting practices, and, possibly more importantly — though it’s only a possibility — he has to reconcile himself to the part he played in the death of his mistress (accidental, but still manslaughter). So, he has a lot on his plate.

There are a lot of films with this kind of premise — the fall from grace of a plutocrat. In this film, as in so many, the character played by Richard Gere lives in a gorgeous apartment (though frankly even the poor kid from Harlem has a nice flat) with the best suits, the best art, just all those little touches that make it reek wealth. And there’s no real reason to like or sympathise for this character. And yet Gere manages to make the viewer care — if not actually care whether he loses all his money or not, but perversely to care whether he gets away with the crime of which he’s so manifestly guilty.

So, there’s no real reason for this movie to exist, and whether you see it depends on your tolerance for stories about rich white men and their transgressions. For despite the pedigree of the supporting cast (Susan Sarandon as Miller’s wife, Laetitia Casta as his mistress, Tim Roth as the detective investigating her death, Vanity Fair editor-at-large Graydon Carter’s exemplary head of hair as another trader), this is firmly focused on Gere and all these other actors are merely afforded minor appearances. But the ride itself is well-made and well-played.


© Lionsgate

NEW RELEASE FILM REVIEW
Director/Writer Nicholas Jarecki | Cinematographer Yorick Le Saux | Starring Richard Gere, Susan Sarandon, Tim Roth | Length 107 minutes || Seen at Cineworld Shaftesbury Avenue, London, Sunday 3 March 2013

My Rating 3 stars good