Clouds of Sils Maria

Year: 2014
Production Co: CG Cinéma
Director: Oliver Assayas
Writer: Oliver Assayas
Cast: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloé Grace Moretz, Johnny Flynn

Movie star Maria (Juliette Binoche) is constantly accompanied by her assistant, Valentine (Kirsten Stewart), who runs her life, fending off ridiculous press enquiries, vetting calls from the lawyer working for the husband she's in the midst of divorcing, helping her run lines and unwittingly becoming her closest companion.

Maria's agent and Valentine are both trying to convince her to take a role in the play that launched her career 20 years before, only she'll be playing the senior female part.

The younger woman will be played by the spoiled and troubled Hollywood ingénue Jo-Ann (Chloë Grace Moretz), who's presence in her life causes Maria to face the impending decline in her career because of her age. In response, her relationship with Valentine takes an unhealthily romantic and sexual turn, Maria unconsciously projecting her wish to reverse the clock onto her attraction to the younger woman.

Unfortunately, The Clouds of Sils Maria isn't that film, and the whole thing feels like a missed opportunity. The character of Jo-Ann doesn't even come into the film until about three quarters of the way through, and the only scene with even a hint of dominant/submissive conflict between her and Maria comes right at the end.

The character of Valentine also follows a very strange trajectory. When she starts to develop a casual thing with a photographer who's worked with Maria's entourage, Maria reacts with curiosity that seems like it could develop into full-blown jealousy, but it doesn't go anywhere.

There's also a bizarre turn of events surrounding Valentine's exit from the story. After the pair are walking in the mountains near the titular Swiss town and start to argue, Maria turns around to find Valentine not following her any more, seemingly vanished. What's more, when the story jumps forward a couple of months the younger woman is never mentioned again. Is the movie saying she was some sort of imaginary friend, was it symbolism for the disappearance of Maria's chance to recapture her lost youth, or something else entirely?

It's disappointing that the film goes off on so many weird tangents because the elements of the professional symbiosis between Maria and Valentine make for a very smart satire about modern stardom, movies and Hollywood.

The naturalistic performances are great too, with Stewart a particular standout – further proof of how talented she is in small performance-based fare like Adventureland and Camp X-Ray.

It needed a more straightforward story to really take off, but maybe that was on purpose. Writer/director Oliver Assayas might have intended to subvert and satirise the traditional dramatic structure and emotional cadences of a Hollywood movie as well as the way stars are managed behind the scenes.

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