CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (France | Switzerland | Germany | USA | Belgium/15A/124mins)
Directed by Olivier Assayas. Starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz, Lars Eidinger, Johnny Flynn, Angela Winkler.
THE PLOT: Maria (Juliette Bioche) finds herself facing the fact that she is growing older when she is approached to star in the same play that made her famous as a 20 year old actress, only this time she is to play the part of the older woman, and allow a younger actress to play the role she made famous. Struggling to learn her lines and to find a place where she belongs in her career, Maria’s frustrations become evident as she argues with her personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart).
THE VERDICT: There is something familiar about CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, with BIRDMAN only just in our collective rear view mirror, here comes another film about an actor trying to find where they belong in their career as they grow older. That said, CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA was screening at festivals around the world while BIRDMAN was still being made, and there is also something of ALL ABOUT EVE and SNSET BOULEVARD about the film, which makes this film, effectively a two hander between Binoche and Stewart, a fascinating one.
Juliette Binoche is on fantastic form here as Maria, and allows the character’s fear about where she belongs now she is growing older to be the lynchpin of the entire film. Kristen Stewart is perhaps the best she has ever been, and gives a wonderfully honest performance as a young woman who sees the world in a different way than her older employer, and the chemistry between the two is wonderful. Elsewhere, Chloe Grace Moretz embraces the young tabloid hungry starlet with aplomb, although there are some of her scenes that ring somewhat hollow.
The story, written by Olivier Assayas and based on an idea by Juliette Binoche, blends together fiction and reality cleverly, so the film feels like life imitating art imitating life. The dialogues between Binoche and Stewart as they run lines for the film feel honest and relatable, and there is a healthy dose of awareness of her own myth on the part of Stewart, as Valentine hammers many points on the nose that were true in Stewart’s own personal life. This doesn’t seem to be coincidence, however, as Stewart lobbied for the part having first been offered the role of Moretz’s young ingénue.
Olivier Assayas directs with care, making the dialogue heavy film feel real and honest, with the interactions between the women at the centre of the film taking centre stage, but never overwhelming the film, and allowing the audience to learn more about the characters through their interactions with one another. Just as things take a turn for the predictable, a mystery is introduced to the film, which turns the story on its head.
In all, CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA contains powerful performances from Binoche and Stewart, whose chemistry and ease with one another makes the film work. There is plenty to ponder here, and enough comedy to stop the film from sinking into a depressive tale about an aging actress. The comparisons with BIRDMAN, ALL ABOUT EVE and SUNSET BOULEVARD stand, but Olivier Assayas’s film tells the story in a new and engaging manner.
Review by Brogen Hayes

Clouds of Sils Maria
Review by Brogen Hayes
5.0Plenty to ponder
  • filmbuff2011

    Olivier Assayas new drama Clouds Of Sils Maria takes an insightful glimpse into the acting process, as we follow an aging actress coming to turns with her past, her present and her future. Not unlike last year’s The Congress, it focuses on a well-known actress called Maria (Juliette Binoche) who has turned down a part in a major franchise (X-Men!) to instead pursue a play from her youth. In that play, she was a young woman called Sigrid who became a personal assistant to an older woman called Helena, who she then seduces and drives to the brink of suicide. 20 years later, Maria has returned to the Swiss Alps to honour her late friend, the writer of the play. The twist now is that Maria is playing Helena’s part. With her actual personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) in tow, the two set off to re-discover the play. Hollywood wild child Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz), fresh from a hit Hollywood superhero film, is keen to take on the Sigrid part. But can Maria accept the fact that she’s older and hopefully a bit wiser? Clouds Of Sils Maria is a film that takes some knowing pokes at the acting profession but in a clever and uncynical way that marks it out from other films of this type. There’s a real sense of Maria struggling with the play and the two characters. With life experience behind her, she can no longer connect with it the way she did in the past. There’s also an eerie parallel going on in the scenes between Maria and Valentine. Sometimes, they’re just reading from the play to each other but it’s not immediately obvious. That sense of blurring the lines between the play’s characters and the film’s characters is well executed. Binoche, as always, is credible and engaging, with a sense of bitterness about her profession that hints towards despair. But it’s Stewart who really impresses. Even poking fun at her own recent franchise efforts, Stewart gives an honest and brilliant performance as the younger woman who may have Maria twisted around her fingers. She recently became the first American to win a Cesar for supporting actress, the French equivalent of an Oscar. Beyond the performances, Clouds Of Sils Maria is a beautifully-shot film, which makes excellent usage of the scenic Swiss Alps locations. As the mist rolls through the mountains like a slithering snake, it’s the perfect backdrop for a drama of high emotions and hidden feelings. A very fine, classy film that comes highly recommended. ****

  • Martin

    This movie asks many questions about life that we all want the answers to. Slightly long and very arty but wasnt toobad otherwuse. A great performance from kirsten Stewart too which I was surprised at. This girl really can act.