I rented this movie, unsure what to expect. It is a French-English production (dialogue is mostly in English) and I was aware the acting performances were going to be really above par. In fact, this movie is a historical footnote because Kristen Stewart (who I still really liked in The Runaways) became the first American actress to ever win a Cesar Award in France with her performance in this film. The Cesar is the French equivalent of the Oscar so it was no small feat.
Stewart deserved her award. She really keeps this movie going in scenes as the personal assistant to an older actress, played by Juliette Binoche. The character played by Stewart is unsatisfied with her life, her relationships, and the path of her career. The increasing tug of war between Stewart’s character and Binoche is a main thrust in this movie. I suspect that if Stewart ever gets the chance to just focus on really good scripts, not the Hollywood blockbuster junk stuff, she is going to lay down a reputation as a great actress. There is a Betty Davis quality about her with the looks and always being in conflict with herself that drives an audience to submerge themselves into her performance … when the script has meat to it.
Binoche is wonderful as the accomplished, older actress, who can’t come to terms with her past or her relationships. Now, I have to confess, I have had a not-so-secret crush on Binoche ever since I watched her in Blue many years ago and there are very few of her performances I don’t lap up like the groupie I am. That said, I thought this was one of her better performances in a while due to its complexity. She seemed more fit and more into her role than she has in a while.
The script is the key here for it is not a simple straight-forward script. I suspect that this movie plays better in Europe than it does in America because complexity is more accepted there. Essentially, what is occurring here is a play inside a play and you see that most clearly at the very end, which I won’t give away.
It takes a little stretch for it to become apparent that there is a play going on inside a play – as we writers would say – and it only reveals itself with temporarily glimpses at first. A hint here, a clue there. But then it becomes apparent to the audience that the characters being discussed don’t just belong to an upcoming play. Like a good play, motivation and off-stage events are left to the audience’s imagination in this plot.
This is a different kind of film. If you are into your Hollywood, here is your formulated plot, please, don’t think, movie – yeah, well, don’t rent this one. But if you want to see a couple of really brilliant actresses perform, backed up by some awesome scenery from the Alps, then give this one a go. It will break the monotony of comic book heroes you’re being spoon fed.