The trailer for Clouds of Sils Maria looks like a thriller: a mature actress (Juliette Binoche) signs up to star in a play with a younger American starlet (Chloë Grace Moretz), while her assistant (Kristen Stewart) becomes more and more powerful in running the actresses’ life. This is the film I thought I was going to see — but Clouds of Sils Maria is a different movie altogether.
For starters, it’s less All About Eve and more a look at theatre. Playwrights, actors, directors, the stage — all come to the fore to be analysed and discussed, as Binoche’s character, Maria Enders, ponders what it means to act in the play “Maloja Snake.” She originally starred as its ingenue , and the performance launched her to worldwide fame. 20 years later, Binoche is en route through Switzerland for a gala event honoring the playwright, only to find he’s unexpectedly died. But a new director asks her to agree to perform the other important character in the “Maloja Snake”: the older woman who falls in love with the ingenue. She holed up in a house in the Swiss countryside (in the eponymous village of Sils Maria) with her assistant, played by Kristen Stewart. There, they rehearse the play. I kept thinking that life would imitate art — the two would begin acting out the play in real life.
Not at all. The characters spend time discussing theatre: characters’ motivation, whether Binoche should be playing the older woman’s role. Long walks in the Swiss countryside showcase the country’s beauty. Eventually Chloe Grace Moretz’s American starlet is introduced — alongside modern life, with paparazzi and blogs, from which Binoche had been sheltered during her Swiss sojourn.
Kristen Stewart took home the Best Supporting Actress César Award at the Cannes Film Festival, and it’s not hard to see why — the only puzzle is why the other two actresses didn’t. All three provide masterful performances, with no weak link between them. The other character that deserves a mention is the Maloja Snake. A special cloud formation occasionally hovering above the Swiss town of Engadin, it’s a metaphor for — well, I’ll let you figure that out for yourself. It’s well worth a rousing discussion with your +1.
This is a satisfying film, well worth spending your time on. And after you watch it, you can start looking up flights to Switzerland like I did.
Clouds of Sils Maria opens 7 May nationally.
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