Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, Clouds of Sils Maria is a film that revolves around an actress, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), who is coping with aging in an industry that celebrates youth. Enders is asked to take part in a remake of Maloja Snake, a play by Wilhelm Melchior about the tragic relationship between a young girl and an older woman. Originally starring in both theatrical and film versions of Maloja Snake, Enders owes her entire career to her previous successes with the production. However, instead of playing the lead role of the manipulative and wild Sigrid once again, Enders is asked to take the part of the much older Helena. Though Enders is hesitant to take the role, she feels obligated to honor the memory of her recently deceased mentor who gave Enders her big break.
Agreeing to stay at the home of her late mentor, in the small town of Sils Maria in the middle of the Swiss Alps, Enders and her personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) spend much of their time rehearsing lines while Enders struggles to relate to the character of Helena. Enders only form of escape from the demands of the play come from both a mysterious event involving the clouds near the Alps – Sils Maria is practically its own character in the film – and her relationship with Valentine. Clouds of Sils Maria uses the latter to create a sense of intimacy that flows throughout the film. This is especially relevant when the younger Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) shows up to play Sigrid. Ellis is known more for her antics off set, and her blunt honesty, rather than for her talents as an actress. The presence of Ellis stirs up a rather complex relationship between the three women.
Assayas’ actresses are in top form here. Juliette Binoche is wonderful as Maria Enders, conveying both humor and humility in the role. She evokes a woman who, despite being a famous actress, finds it difficult adjusting to both loss and the general uncertainty of being a female performer of a certain age. Binoche’s rapport with Kristen Stewart definitely adds an additional edge to her performance. Speaking of Stewart, her performance as Valentine is easily her best work to date. She maintains a very reserved persona even as her own life becomes overwhelmed by Enders. Then there’s Chloë Grace Moretz who brings much complexity to the role of Jo-Ann Ellis. Her views on the play seem to mirror Valentine’s rather than Enders, which only helps to remind the audience that Ellis is still a young woman trying to figure out the world.
Clouds of Sils Maria is a phenomenal work from Olivier Assayas. It’s a film that manages to have captivating things to say about art, aging, and death. There is a great sense of grace and wit that is often conveyed thanks in large part to the incredible performances by its three main actresses. In the end, Clouds of Sils Maria is a remarkable film.
© thevoid99 2015