The hills are alive…with bitching.
After under-appreciated semi-autobiographical tale of student revolution Something In The Air, French writer-director Olivier Assayas turns to another aspect of life he well understands. Clouds Of Sils Maria is a set in the world of drama, a bubble he’s visited before – and more successfully – in Irma Vep, his sly 1996 film with ex-wife Maggie Cheung.
Here, he’s reuniting with Juliette Binoche, star of his 2008 film Summer Hours, with whom he first worked three decades ago when he co-scripted her breakthrough, Rendez-vous. In Clouds, Binoche plays star Maria Enders, who rose to fame years earlier in the play and film Maloja Snake, the story of a stormy relationship between seductive young Sigrid and boss Helena who, abandoned, is eventually driven to suicide.
Maria made her name playing Sigrid but is now given the chance to play Helena in a stage revival; taking the role she originated is Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), an up-and-coming Hollywood star with a scandalous reputation. Naturally, Maria is wary – the older role forces her to face the fact she’s no longer the ingénue...
It takes place in the eponymous Swiss Alps town where Maria is rehearsing, the high point revolving around the doyenne’s relationship with her loyal, competent assistant, Val (Kristen Stewart). Assayas’ portrayal of female friendship, vulnerability and jealousy is compelling, and Stewart delivers her best work in ages.
Unfortunately, the final reel never quite delivers on the promise of its premise. The dynamic between the three leads fizzles, lacking the emotional impact it needs. As a portrait of an artist, it lacks the fine brushstrokes that could have made it a masterpiece.