Movie Review: ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’
Starring: Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart
Plot: An aging actress is offered a part in the restaging of the play that made her famous.
In this partially meta story, Juliette Bincohe plays verteran actress, Maria Enders. Enders got her big break in a play in the role of a young femme fatale who seduced her older female boss. That story is now being restaged, and everyone involved seems to think it would be a great idea if she came back but in the part of the older female boss. This begins an emotional identity crisis that swells over the course of the movie. Certainly timely, as the pool of roles for women of a certain age have been the subject of much controversy, but facing our own mortality and possible obsolescence are universal concerns we can all sympathize with.
Enders tentatively agrees and shacks up at the playwright’s house in the mountains of Sils Maria. Here, she re-educates herself on the script, this time focusing on the other point of view character, running lines with her personal assistant, Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart. They have really amazing chemistry that bounces between maternal and sororal. Binoche plays Enders as if she is barely holding it together, a performance of emotional depth that we have come to expect from her, while Stewart’s Val has to make sure that the wheels don’t go completely off the rails. Stewart really shines and continues to choose her roles and stretch her abilities in the wake of The Twilight Saga.
The two of them eventually wade into sensitive subjects as their relationship starts mirroring that of the characters in the play. While running their lines, each scene starts with a rigidity you often see when actors pretend to be acting and ends with a sincere outpouring of emotions. It is sometimes hard to tell if they are still running lines or if they are venting true feelings.
The weakest part of the movie is its attempt to knock back against the more “Hollywood” corner of filmmaking. Cast opposite Enders in the play is a new young starlet named Jo-Ann Ellis, played by Chloe Moretz Grace. She is hard partying celebutant smeared all over the tabloids when not starring in shallow, big-budget young adult movies. Ellis’ subplot looks more like a broad satire, and an overreaction at that, rather than a nuanced meditation on industry standards like the rest of the movie. Thankfully, it doesn’t scuttle the whole movie and actually offers a tonal respite from the rest of the heavy-handed narrative.