Clouds of Sils Maria (2015)
dir. Olivier Assayas
written by: Olivier Assayas
starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz
3.75 out of 4 stars
The importance of age in Hollywood is no secret. Young and beautiful things are going to get the roles and the accolades while Marisa Tomei is suddenly Aunt May, following the orthopedic shoes of Sally Field and Rosemary Harris. In the season three debut of Inside Amy Schumer, the “Last Fuckable Day” sketch delivered the humor behind Julia Louis-Dreyfuss reaching her end of sexual roles.
In Clouds of Sils Maria, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) faces her age and her life choices in the face of her mentor’s passing. Twenty years ago, Maria originated the role of Sigrid, a brash young assistant to a prominent businesswoman named Helena, in Maloja Snake by Wilhelm Melchior. A young, talented director has opted to reprise this now classic play in the wake of the playwright’s death, and he wants Enders to take the role of the older, yearning Helena. Enders is relegated to a role she knows so well but has lived to avoid her entire career. To make matters more taxing for Maria, a young, troubled actress (Chloe Grace Moretz), primarily known for her blockbuster roles and paparazzi encounters, is cast in the role of Sigrid. The film barely takes the audience to the stage, rather following Maria and her American assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) between the time of her casting and the beginning of rehearsal. This film follows the process of this actress struggling not only with her lines but also with the nagging knowledge that she is no longer the ingenue she once was.
Olivier Assayas, screenwriter and director of this three act play about a play, has created a gorgeous examination of an aging actress and the issues she takes with the changing film industry. Clouds takes the viewer through loss, the acting process, internal demons, jealousy and the thousand different emotions of Maria Enders. Enders populates every scene with her star power, both the character and the wonderfullness of Binoche. Assayas allows every step of her worried journey to resonate philosophically from the screen, but his notable strength lies in the direction of the more private moments. Upon learning the casting of the actress taking the role of Sigrid, Maria dives into gossip rags and online tabloids to see the shit show that is the young actress’s life. Her exact discoveries are not divulged, but the disappointment is present in her blue tinted face transfixed on her iPad.
Binoche thrives in Assayas’s work. She displays her usual masterful presence, though less competent in English than her usual French, in a role that brandishes hysterics and uncertainty. Maria has had an exceptional career, garnering accolades and adoring fans. Her insecurities abound with the introduction of the actress she sees as her replacement. Binoche provides a lived in portrayal of an actress facing quandaries in her career. Following up their collaboration in 2008’s Summer Hours (which I will hopefully view in the coming weeks), a connection between Assayas and Binoche is clearly present. She understands where he is going; he knows what he can provide her. Binoche, talented and Oscar-winning, knows how to emote.
Chloe Grace-Moretz provides more understatement than usual but doesn’t branch far from her common roles. Her breathy voice serves her well, allowing a troubled young woman worthy of limited sympathy to creep through her terrible decisions. However, her performance still falls into a devious, somewhat villainous territory in which she was born to be typecast. Growth will likely come with time; CGM was not even 18 when she filmed this role.
The true standout of the film was Kristen Stewart. Occasionally passable in movies, Adventureland, On the Road, and mostly recently Still Alice come to mind, Stewart owns this role. For an actress that has relied so heavily on blinking her way through drama (Twilight, obviously), she is never caught acting. Kristen Stewart IS Valentine; there is no other persona she embodies. In a role that lacks the showy qualities of the rest of the cast, Stewart allows subtlety to guide her performance. Whether performing her assistant duties or dealing with the panic that constantly crosses Maria’s past, she is completely natural. Her voice breaks, she reads lines with Maria flatly, she keeps Maria’s chaotic life in order. Overall, she brings uniformity to a film that leans into emotional outbreaks. Stewart won the supporting actress Cesar this past year (the French Oscar), the first English language performance to do so, and it’s well deserved. I would not be entirely surprised to see her star power survive to the American awards season in these next few months.
Clouds is easily one of the best films of the year so far, only submitting to Mad Max Fury Road, in my opinion. Its examination of aging in the public eye brought substantial material to ponder, but the performances, particularly from Stewart, are what best remains in my mind. I truly wonder if it will remain in my top favors with the impending Oscar glut (and I mean that with the utmost excitement!), but I foresee Stewart retaining top honors for surprise and talent.