Clouds of Sils Maria (4 stars)

Clouds of Sils Maria

Glasgow Film Festival: Juliette Binoche shines as an insecure actress

The inquisitive and enchanting Clouds of Sils Maria came about when Juliette Binoche challenged her Summer Hours director Olivier Assayas to deliver a daring examination of the feminine, based on her original idea. The result is a story which revolves around three women, one that explores uneven relationships and rivalries in a manner seldom seen onscreen.

Binoche plays Maria Enders, an internationally successful stage and screen actress living a precarious existence; age-wise, she's approaching the cliff-edge that represents the moment when an actress' career tends to plummet. The situation is thrown into sharp relief when she's courted to star in a new production of 'Maloja Snake', the play that made her name, only this time she'll be playing the role of the aging lover of the manipulative mademoiselle she originally brought to life.

We meet Maria at her most vulnerable: her mentor is dead, her marriage is over and a young replacement is looming at her from afar (a bratty Hollywood starlet played by Chloë Grace Moretz, whose antics Maria spies on via YouTube). In her deliberations, rehearsals, tears and tantrums she's accompanied by her tomboyish and dependable assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart).

Clouds of Sils Maria quite brilliantly explores the relationship between actors and their roles, how this can develop into a deep understanding and attachment, and provoke feelings of possessiveness and defensiveness. It also delves into the complex bond between stars and their staff – people who are in constant close contact but who, in another sense, inhabit entirely different worlds. Binoche and Stewart's differing acting styles make for a useful and compelling contrast here, and the scenes where they kick-back and laugh together are especially charming.

Assayas' film is not as intense as one would expect, with a breezy, undisciplined quality which suits the sometimes rural surroundings, if not always the subject matter. The areas probed are many and varied (including the benefits and pitfalls of technology) and, while things don't always gel quite as they should, it consistently intrigues. Clouds of Sils Maria dips and soars in its grand ambitions but, at its best, blends the rampant egos and raging insecurities of All About Eve with a fresh and playful modernity.

Screening on Sun 22 Feb and Mon 23 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2015. General release from Fri 15 May.

Clouds of Sils Maria - Official Trailer I HD I Sundance Selects

Clouds of Sils Maria

  • 2014
  • Germany / France / Switzerland
  • 2h 4min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Olivier Assayas
  • Cast: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz
  • UK release: 15 May 2015

When a veteran actor takes on an adaptation of a play she starred in as a younger woman, she is faced with uncomfortable truths about herself.