Clouds of Sils Maria Review

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart deliver winning performances in this drama from inside the world of acting

Director Olivier Assayas has crafted an interesting film in Clouds of Sils Maria. It is a movie that netted Kristen Stewart the French equivalent of an Oscar for her role alongside fellow co-star Juliette Binoche, the César Award. Crafted with a distinctly European sensibility, it explores the intense emotional connection that some actors develop between their work and personal lives. It is layered with insight about the process of acting and the reality of tabloid gossip that surrounds most actresses. This is not a straightforward drama at the end of the day. Art begins to mirror reality and vice-versa in this intriguing movie. It is a clever examination of the acting process from the inside out.

Clouds of Sils Maria begins somewhat ponderously with the death of a reclusive playwright, Wilhelm Melchior. Renowned French actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) first rose to fame in one of his plays at the age of eighteen, eventually becoming an international movie star. Maria has been asked to play an older role in a sequel to the movie which first made her famous. She struggles accepting the role and how her current situation in life possibly reflects on it.

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If that sounds familiar to the actual career of French actress Juliette Binoche, one of her generation’s most acclaimed actresses, it shouldn’t come as a surprise in Clouds of Sils Maria. The fictional movie has been carefully cast in its three most important roles with an eye on each person’s actual career and life. Kristen Stewart plays Maria’s young American assistant. Chloe Grace Moretz plays a young starlet with a career and personal life bearing a striking resemblance to Kristen Stewart’s life. Does art imitate life or is this life imitating art? The answer never comes easily in Clouds of Sils Maria, leaving the door open for the viewer to determine what is truth and what is fiction.

A passing familiarity with the backgrounds of both Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart before watching this movie ensures a better understanding. The drama is surprisingly personal as it explores several different themes. Binoche’s character feels like a thinly-veiled version of herself as she goes on at length discussing the acting process and the emotional toll it wrecks. Chloe Grace Moretz plays a thinly-veiled version of the Twilight star, a young American actress whose personal problems are fodder for the tabloids and YouTube while she headlines blockbuster movies. One should know that Kristen Stewart carried on an affair with her Snow White and the Huntsman director, Rupert Sanders. That eventually mirrors a similar situation in Clouds of Sils Maria to another character. It is a fairly courageous move on Stewart’s part that slyly winks at the audience with knowing.

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It’s an interesting experiment that requires careful viewing.

The opening act may lose some viewers until a possible destination for its aims finally crystallizes in Clouds of Sils Maria. We are thrust into the world of acting and filmmaking, a subject the movie industry loves to dissect on film. Its meta-nature is slowly revealed as it explores the relationship between Maria and her assistant. It is a co-dependent friendship that mirrors reality for many working actors that have reached a certain level of fame. Tangled up in this are Maria’s struggle to accept the role and her assistant’s input. These characters may or may not be playing roles, but they definitely portray a realistic view of the choices faced by actors working in the movie business.

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart deliver relaxed, naturalistic performances that are probably closer to their “true” personalities than most of their prior roles on film. It’s an interesting experiment that requires careful viewing. Clouds of Sils Maria advances a complicated proposition that rewards contextual knowledge of its cast’s background. That may make it tough viewing for the less initiated, or those unwilling to wait around for its languid pacing. Those that hang around until the end will be well rewarded with a rich, intriguing movie.

Movie ★★★★☆

Clouds of Sils Maria is rated R for Language and Brief Graphic Nudity. Its running time is 123 minutes.

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