In what will likely be known as the most meta film of the year, Clouds of Sils Maria is a curiously cynical drama about fame, the arts, Hollywood and aging.
Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, an actress at the peak of her creative powers (the acclaimed theatre and film star just appeared in a superhero blockbuster) and is on her way to Zurich with her PA Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to appear at a gala for her mentor, Wilhelm Melchior, a playwright who gave Enders her break 20 years ago in the play Maloja Snake. On the train journey to Zurich they hear that Melchior has died and the gala turns into a commemoration. In Zurich, a hot new theatre director wants Enders to appear in a remount of Maloja Snake, a play about a young seductress, Sigrid, who lures and corrupts her middle age boss Helena. In the new production Enders will play Helena while the new bad girl of Hollywood Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), who is coming off a mutant sci-fi film and various tabloid scandals, will take the role that made Enders famous. As Enders rehearses the role with Valentine in the devastatingly beautiful Swiss Alps, she has trouble connecting with the role of Helena. Enders still believes she is Sigrid and not Helena. Now to the delicious meta-curiousness of Clouds of Sils Maria, Binoche pitched the idea of the film to writer and director Olivier Assayes, who was the writer of Rendez-vous, which gave Binoche her break in 1985, while Binoche apparently appeared in the recent Godzilla to make Enders more believable. And it does. While Moretz’ Ellis could be seen as a dramatic version of the real life Stewart, who is wonderful in this, as she more than stands on her own against one of the greats (Binoche). While Birdman won Oscars for its cynical observations about the ‘industry’, Clouds of Sils Maria is a more nuanced and rewarding look at celebrity, film and approaching middle-age in an industry that is always on the look out for the hot new thing. Clouds of Sils Maria is in cinemas now