A bittersweet meditation on acting and ageing, Olivier Assayas’s beguiling art-house drama Clouds of Sils Maria finds three contrasting performers each at the top of her game.
Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz play, respectively, a legendary actress, her savvy personal assistant, and a young Hollywood star with a scandalous private life. Surprisingly, it’s the effortlessly naturalistic Stewart who proves the most compelling screen presence.
Binoche’s middle-aged diva Maria Enders is the story’s crux, however, as she frets over whether to appear in a revival of the celebrated play that made her name two decades earlier.
Called ‘Maloja Snake’ but clearly modelled on Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, this play revolves around a young woman who seduces and discards an older woman with fateful consequences. Originally, Maria played the young seducer; now she is being asked to play the older role, an invitation that offends and unsettles her.
With much of the action devoted to Maria’s efforts to rehearse the play, swapping lines with her assistant in a Swiss mountain chalet, Clouds of Sils Maria is talky and slow moving, yet the interplay of its leading women is as mesmerising as the strange weather phenomenon – a cloud bank pouring through an alpine pass – that gives the film its title.
Certificate 15. Runtime 124 mins. Director Olivier Assayas.