Aside from a truly enigmatic and compelling performance from Kristen Stewart Clouds of Sils Maria offers very little on a cinematic scale. Maria (Juliette Binoche) is asked to partake in the play revival of the show that made her name twenty years ago. Now however, a younger actress is asked to play her role (Chloë Grace Moretz) while the idea of age takes its hold on Maria’s mindset. She and her assistant Valentine (Stewart) travel to the Sils Maria, a remote region in the Alps to rehearse. However, more often than not the rehearsals turn into self-reflection between the two women, particularly Maria, leading to tension between the two of them.
Director Oliver Assayas has made a movie about a subject that ideally would have fit in an 90 minute film but has instead stretched it beyond its limits to just over two hours. Clearly finding beauty in the setting, Assayas spends more time on the visuals than his subjects, making for a decidedly pretty but hollow film.
Films about the fear of aging are a theme that has been explored before, many times so when a filmmaker approaches it they should offer up some kind of insight that we haven’t witnessed before. The Clouds of Sils Maria is a film very content meditating on what has already been said before with strong performers rooted at its core.
Binoche is a wildly talented actress and make the most minimal role interesting with her presence alone but even she can’t instill much intrigue into Maria’s character. Moretz has an affected presence that works for the character she’s playing but doesn’t get enough time to really delve into her character. Luckily this seems marginally intentional. Jo-Ann is how Maria and to an extent, Valentine sees her. She’s either the shallow young actress or the talented ingénue. She isn’t a character in a film and more a character of Maria’s perceptions.
The movies greatest strength was Stewart who has moved far past her Twilight fame.
Stewart hasn’t gotten rid of all of her tics, but regardless of some beats played the way you’d expect, she was a winningly charming presence. More than Binoche or Moretz, she embodies her character Valentine as a fully formed human, even though she’s given the least amount of backstory. Stewart has shown in the past in films such as The Runaways and Adventureland that her talent is further reaching than what Twilight would have suggested. If she continues with performances such as these where her presence is simple yet alluring, working with directors who push her, her career path should be one worth following.
There’s a genuine interest at the start of the film about the parallels between Maria’s experience and her character in the play. Maria’s self-worth is based on the character she’s playing and the more and more she reads her lines the more and more her life begins to feel tangled. Playing an older woman lusting over a younger one whose position is dominant makes her insecure, needing Valentine to support her. Valentine on the other hand is self-assured, young and has no qualms about what she likes and why she likes it. The two women’s relationship and interplay is when the film is at its best and Binoche and Stewart share a palpable chemistry.
The film’s failings are in the final third when any interest begins to wane as the story comes full circle and simply starts again. It’s a film that lacks focus and that’s interest lies solely in its characters but never spends enough time with them. Frustratingly, this film could have been amazing had it spent the time finely editing the fine scenes where suddenly the film loses its focus and its need to flesh out its characters.
The films most exceptional moments are its quietest ones, in between rehearsals, when Valentine and Maria discussed the play and its motives and the characters involved. The characters and Stewart in particular were the beating heart of the film and what the story needed more of.
Director: Oliver Assayas
Chloë Grace Moretz
Film Length: 123 minutes
Release Date: April 17, 2015
Distributor: Sundance Selects