Wesley Emblidge ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Olivier Assayas’s films have always featured many languages overlapping, but with Clouds of Sils Maria, featuring American stars like Kristen Stewart and Chloë Grace Moretz (as well as the French Juliette Binoche), this is the closest he’s ever come to making his English language debut. The French filmmaker has been working since the ‘80s all the way up to 2013’s excellent Something in the Air. Many have called Sils Maria a spiritual sequel to his 1996 film Irma Vep, which focused on the clash of cultures and talents during a the production of a French remake of Les Vampires. Here Assayas again turns the camera towards the entertainment industry, while throwing in elements of psychosexual drama and generational divide that threaten to explode at any moment.
Binoche plays aging actress Maria Enders, who is convinced to star in a revival the play that jumpstarted her career twenty years earlier. The show told the story of Sigrid, a young girl who seduces and manipulates her boss Helena, driving her mad and to suicide. At eighteen, Enders played Sigrid, but prodigy director Klaus Diesterweg (Lars Eidinger) wants her to play Helena, with the young controversial Hollywood starlet Jo-Ann Ellis (Moretz) taking on Sigrid. As Enders runs through her lines with her assistant Valentine (Stewart), the parallels between the play and her life come out and tensions come to a head. Oddly, it would make a nice double feature with Maps to the Stars, both in the ways the films play with Hollywood generations and how reviving old work can bring the past back to haunt you.
Binoche is predictably great, but the real surprise here is Stewart, who has been picking nothing but interesting projects lately and here finally finds the perfect fit. Assayas originally wanted Stewart in Moretz’s role, likely to play up the meta-elements, but she’s great as Valentine with a real deadpan sense of humor and completely holds her own (even at times overshadowing) with a talented veteran like Binoche.
Assayas’ film is very layered, in a way that demands repeated viewings (especially after a big shift in the third act). The Stewart fangirls who show up will be lost, but for anyone looking for a fascinating, tension-ridden drama, Clouds of Sils Maria is a perfect choice.
Overall Grade: B+