Musings on celebrity, ageing and the evolution of egocentric creativity play out in this intriguing work from one of the greats of modern cinema. Olivier Assayas is arguably one of the most original filmmakers working in cinema today.
In a crowd of male centric narratives it’s refreshing to watch a film that features complex female characters. Valentine (Stewart) is a protector, secretary, confidante, and combatant to her employer Maria Enders (Binoche) a 40ish movie star. As the film opens Maria is on a train travelling to Sils Maria in Switzerland to accept an award on behalf of her mentor Wilhelm, who discovered her as an eighteen year old. The trip is thrown into chaos when she receives word that he has died.
To complicate things she is now offered the older role in a new staging of the film that made her famous as a young actress. The young role will now be played by Hollywood bad girl Jo-Ann Ellis (Moretz terrific), who TMZ has deemed as the A list actress that dreamt of making it to the Z list. This adds another dimension of insecurity for the ageing actress, who wants to stay eternally young. “I’m Sigrid and I want to stay Sigrid,” she screams at one stage to her patient agent.
The pleasures in Clouds are found in the performances of these two actresses. Binoche is now literally a veteran, having worked in the industry for thirty years, she is still beautiful but there is a depth and detail evident in her portrayal of Maria. Stewart starred opposite Jodie Foster in David Fincher’s Panic Room at age twelve, much maligned since the enormous success of Twilight she delivers a captivating naturalistic performance here.
The conversations between the two actresses are full of subtle mean spirited envy and contempt. The reading of the play mirrors the deteriorating relationship between Maria and Valentine and at times its difficult to distinguish the world of the play to the film. “You hate the play you hate her, no need to take it out on me.” Val pleads to Maria at one point, this is clearly Assayas purpose to fuse the two worlds.
Expertly crafted with photography from regular collaborator Yorick Le Saux and editing by Marion Monnier, the music is sublime, the use of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons over the end credits is glorious.
Hard to believe the film was shot in thirty days.