By Christian DiMartino
I never really heard much talk about Clouds of Sils Maria, but what I had heard was pretty good. So I bit the bullet and bought it for $3 last night. A wise investment.
Clouds of Sils Maria has an awful title, and it looks like a Hallmark Channel original movie. It is not so. It is, however, a very good film, and it brought to mind another excellent 2015 release, Youth. Both films revolve around aging members of the entertainment industry coming to terms with their age, in the Swiss Alps no less.
Oscar winner Juliette Binoche plays a veteran actress named Maria Enders. Enders got her start in a play when she was 18. The play revolved around a younger woman who fell in love with an older woman, or something. I don’t know. We find Enders and her assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart) on the way to accept a lifetime achievement award for the director of that play, the man who started her career. He is recently deceased.
While there, Valentine urges Maria to talk to a director named Klaus (Lars Eidinger), who is apparently one of the best of his generation. After her persistence, she agrees. Klaus then offers Maria the role in that play that got her started, but this time in the opposite role. Maria is both flattered and baffled by this offer, but agrees to it. Maria smells trouble when she finds out who her co-star is. Her co-star is a wild-child named Jo-Ann (Chloe Grace Moretz), and throughout she can’t help but compare her younger self to this girl.
Throughout the film, Maria and Valentine rehearse the lines of the play and these scenes are the trickiest. At times, it feels like a film within a film, because there are moments when the lines of the play seem to sync up with the events of the film. It’s a tad confusing, but it is nonetheless unique, and director Oliver Assayas handles the material with ease.
The film is beautifully photographed and fairly entertaining. It is also occasionally fascinating, but best of all is the acting. Binoche hasn’t lost her touch. She gives a performance that is both funny and tragic, and it is kind of fun to see her in a role that could seem like it’s life imitating art. Stewart gives probably the best performance of her career as Valentine, a smart young woman who seems like an equal match for such a great actress. She completely holds her own here. Moretz is also brilliant, and when she’s onscreen, the film is at its most entertaining.
I’m glad I caught this movie when I did. It’s a pleasant surprise. Not flawless, but really good nonetheless.