Writer & Director: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Juliette Binoche as Maria Enders, Kristen Stewart as Valentine, Chloe Grace Moretz as Jo-Ann Ellis, Lars Eidinger as Klaus, Johnny Flynn as Christopher Giles
Running time: 2 hours 4 minutes
Rated R for language and brief graphic nudity
IMDB page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2452254
Plot: Actress Maria Enders revisits the play that made her famous as a young woman, forcing her to deal with a volatile co-star and her feelings about her own career.
Nothing much happens in Clouds of Sils Maria. People sit around tables and talk. They sit on sofas and talk. They ride in cars and talk. The hike in the Swiss Alps and….you know.
The lack of big plot twists is refreshing, in a way. As Maria rehearses the play with her assistant, Val, their debates about the characters turn into a master class on acting, psychology, and textual analysis.
Assuming you’re into that sort of thing. If not, then settle in for a very slow two hours. Sure, there’s more than high-falutin’ conversation – Maria meets up with a former co-star she can’t stand. Val has an affair with a sleazy photographer. Wild child starlet Jo-Ann learns that screwing around with married men has consequences. Attitudes and relationships are tested, refined, sometimes tossed out entirely.
All of this takes place amidst beautiful Alpine scenery, and the title phenomenon (in which snake-like clouds slither through a valley) provides a lovely backdrop. There’s probably a metaphor in it somewhere, but you get so used to having everything dissected in the dialogue, abstract thinking becomes difficult.
Binoche remains one of the world’s most stunning actresses, a fact she undermines by being almost totally unglamorous here. For most of the movie, Binoche has cropped hair, no make-up, and a wardrobe of cozy, baggy winter clothing. Maria no longer lives in her old fast-lane world and couldn’t care less about it.
Binoche and Moretz are both great, which is hardly a surprise. Stewart, on the other hand, has been branded a “bad actor,” thanks to the black hole of charisma that was Twilight’s Bella Swan. In Clouds of Sils Maria, she gets a chance to relax in a role with intelligence and personality, proving that she can’t save a lousy script, but she can soar with a good one.
Assayas seems to enjoy messing with the audience, setting us up for some cliched twist, then refusing to follow through. It’s refreshing to have your worst expectations thwarted, but it also means that – and I can’t stress this enough – nothing happens. As it drifts through its second hour, Clouds of Sils Maria becomes as lovely, formless, and unpredictable as its namesake. 5/1/15