Clouds of Sils Maria
Travelling by train through the Alps en route to accept an award on behalf of a celebrated playwright in whose play she rose to critical acclaim many years earlier, veteran actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) learns through her personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) that the reclusive playwright has died unexpectedly.
This presents Maria not just with significant emotional turmoil, but also a tricky decision to make when she is asked to take part in a revival of Wilhelm’s infamous play that put her on the map in the first place.
The problem is that having been a perfect fit for the role of the younger woman decades earlier, Maria resists the notion that she is suitable to play the older woman in the play, particularly as the character committed suicide in the play, only for the actress who played that role years earlier to meet a grisly end in real life.
Offering advice, keeping a watchful eye, and creating a simmering sexual tension between the two is her personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) who is such a powerful presence onscreen that you literally cannot take your eyes off her.
All the while Maria is negotiating a messy divorce, and when her “younger self” actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz) shows up as a starlet who has recently starred in a superhero blockbuster, while fending off the associated press invasion of her private life and semi-breakdown, tensions build to a crescendo.
This is a slow burn of a film that, ultimately for me, took too long to establish it’s necessary plot points.
A brooding effort mirroring the style of a play itself, with intensely meta themes about what happens when art and life collide, and how we deny the facts about ageing until we can’t avoid our older selves any longer, the performances are spellbinding, but it took too long to unfold.
Maybe I would have preferred Moretz’s Superhero Blockbuster…