Currently streaming on Netflix and available on disc via The Criterion Collection, Clouds of Sils Maria is a finely layered and always interesting film about the nature of duality and repressed feelings, a piece of work that has come into full view after more than one screening. Shot on location all over Europe at a variety of obscenely photogenic locations by cinematographer Yorick Le Saux on 35mm film(!), Olivier Assayas’ dreamy film, which he wrote and directed, stars the always alluring Juliette Binoche as a famous actress struggling with an offer to take on a role in a revival of the play that made her famous when she was a rising starlet. Only this time, she’s wanted for the “older woman” role, which is causing her much mental grief. She was the young vixen the first time around, and she can’t imagine herself as the “old one,” or rather, doesn’t want to imagine herself in that way. Her assistant is played by Kristen Stewart, excellent yet again in another artsy effort, and the relationship that Binoche has with her is deeply complicated, so much so that when something mysterious happens to Stewart’s character, the audience is left to think a bit about what they’ve been watching.
This is a flat-lined narrative movie, very talky and purposefully slow moving, with lots of shots of the mountains and cloud formations, with Assayas placing a strong emphasis on nature and its intrinsic bond between a person’s healthy mental thought process. Binoche is anguished and stressed, constantly flip-flopping between her reactions and decisions, and the film takes an interesting swing into tabloid celebrity culture when it’s revealed that the IT girl of the moment (Chloe Grace Moretz, perfectly cast and clearly having fun vamping it up) is going to be playing the role that made Binoche famous. The lines between reality and art begin to blur, and Binoche essentially descends into an existential crisis over what she should be doing with her life. Unique and thought provoking, certainly pretentious but never obnoxious about it, and filled with ideas about the way that people respond to the smallest of moments, Clouds of Sils Maria is yet another accomplished piece of work from Assayas, who has quietly become one of the most eclectic and exciting filmmakers working today, with a body of work including Irma Vep, Summer Hours, Carlos, Boarding Gate, and Demonlover.