Falling out of favor as an actress can be either graceful or disastrous. How many times have we read about actor "X" falling into drug addiction or a torrid sex scandal? Often times, the Hollywood studio system chews you up and spits you out without any regard for your humanity or well-being. In the latest film from French director Olivier Assayas, Clouds of Sils Maria examines an actress fall from the limelight while giving her the pathos and sympathy as any human being who is falling out of step with their profession, especially if it's your identity. And let me say that it's a beautiful film about aging and regret that shines a light on its director and stars, including the wonderful Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, and Chloë Grace Moretz.
The film opens with Juliette Binoche's Maria Enders and her assistance Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart, as they make their way through the French Alps on a train going to Zurich to take part in a celebration for Enders' mentor, playwright Wilhelm Melchior. On the way, Maria talks about never wanting to be in another superhero movie and she's done enough to be finished with the genre. Instead, she wants to spend the last years of her career as a dramatic actress like she used to be when she started her career. During the trip, Maria gets word that Melchior has died and the celebration will now be a tribute to his life and career. Throughout the whole film, Maria reflects on her life, as she's asked to star in the film version of the fictional stage play, "Maloja Snake." that launched her career, only this time playing the older, washed up female lead, while Chloë Grace Moretz's Jo-Ann Ellis, a young upstart, would play the role Maria made famous 20 years ago.
Clouds of Sils Maria dips in and out of Maria's battle with her past and her future, while firmly being planted in the present. Binoche is always top-notch and it's no surprise that she shines in the film, as Kristen Stewart surprises with a wonderful performance, as well. Stewart's Valentine, not just gives Maria perspective on her career, but also a look at the honestly and naivety of youth. Maria longs for how things used to be, as Valentine is a reminder that, by nature, life has to change. Stewart is picking very interesting projects post-Twilight and Clouds of Sils Maria shows off the actress' range of ability. She's no Bella Swan in this picture! The stage play "Maloja Snake" is representative of that change as it (a series of clouds that move through a sleepy Swiss village, as if it were a snake) slithers through mountain tops in a beautiful stream of air and water.
The film also serves as Olivier Assayas' cutting satire and comment on Hollywood's obsession with superhero movies and cheesey science fiction films. While the comment might rub some viewers the wrong way, it seems to be more a laugh at the status quo in Hollywood than anything else. That's where the character Jo-Ann Ellis comes into play, as a young actress trying to break into more serious and dramatic roles, but is clipped into tabloid journalism and paparazzi news. Clouds of Sils Maria is wonderful and if you give into Olivier Assayas reliable hands that it will sweep you into the life of artists on the downswing of their careers, while fully examining the excitement of youth.