A veteran stage star (Juliette Binoche) turns to her assistant (Kristen Stewart) for solace as she jousts with an arrogant younger actress (Chloë Grace Moretz), in the brilliant new film from French auteur Olivier Assayas (Summer Hours, Something in the Air).
Clouds of Sils Maria
Olivier Assayas has graced our Festival's screens ever since his second feature, L'enfant de l'hiver, in 1989. Twenty-five years on, his latest work finds him ascending to ever greater heights in an already brilliant career. His Clouds of Sils Maria began with a challenge from Juliette Binoche to write a deep and complex female role, and Assayas has responded with a film that is at once urgent and magisterial, delving into the female psyche through not just one but three women.
Binoche plays Maria, a famous actor who rose to success with her role in an acclaimed lesbian play in which she played the younger part opposite a middle-aged lover. Now, years later, she is approached to do the same play — this time in the role of the older woman. As life begins to mirror art, Maria finds herself facing a younger version of herself in the form of Jo-Ann (Chloë Grace Moretz, also appearing at the Festival in The Equalizer and Laggies), the actor hired to play opposite her. The tension between an established star confronted with age and the arrogant younger woman on the rise provides much of the internal and psychological drama of Clouds of Sils Maria. Assayas expands his narrative by providing ample screen time for what is in effect the central relationship of the film, that between Maria and her hyperefficient assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart, also at the Festival in Still Alice), who balances iPhone and BlackBerry calls and texts while providing her boss with pertinent advice along the way.
As Maria and her assistant hide out in the Swiss Alps (the film carries with it the feel of summertime outdoors in the mountains), we are shown all the insecurities of an actress trying to balance fame with privacy, career with personal life, while wondering if attitudes toward aging have put an early expiration date on her career. And then, one magical day, the famed cloud of Sils Maria, a forewarning of inclement weather, spills up the valley.