by Alan Yudman

Everyone deals with aging in their own way. But no one has to do it more publicly than an actress. She is not the same person she was when she was young and the public and Hollywood will not allow her to forget it. In the CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, Juliette Binoche is forced to confront that in a most unique fashion. Her character Maria Enders is offered a role in a play about two women who fall in love, one is young the other is older. Years ago she played the younger role and it made her a star. Now a director is offering her the older role and she is not quite sure how to handle it. At the urging of her assistant Valentine (Kristin Stewart), she takes the role. Now the play was written by one of her heroes, a reclusive playwright who we find out early on has died. So Maria travels to his home in Sils Maria in the Swiss Alps along with Valentine to learn her part. Maria struggles mightily as she tries to grasp the role of the older woman. It leaves her on the edge of an emotional breakdown and she seems to be taking most of her frustration out on Valentine. This is a very good performance by Stewart. Rather than portraying the weak, helpless femme fatale, she it playing a young woman who has a lot of her shit together. That is in evidence by the way she handles Maria’s life. She also has strong opinions about art and the play and won’t be run over by Maria’s emotional neediness. This is the same type of strong woman Stewart took on when she played Joan Jett in THE RUNAWAYS and she is totally capable of doing it. I may be among a small number of voices, but Stewart is a good actress with the potential to be an awful lot better and I admire her fearlessness in taking on a variety of challenging roles. I haven’t mentioned Chloe Grace Moretz who plays the younger woman who will co-star with Binoche in the play. She is young, famous and the favorite current target of TMZ. I can’t tell if Binoche is jealous or disgusted. Director Olivier Assayas also wrote the screenplay and did a fine job writing strong female characters. The movie leaves many questions in my mind and not necessarily in a good way. The biggest being that Stewart’s character simply vanishes after a fight with Binoche’s Maria. It bothered me. A lot. To have such an important part of the film just drop off the screen seemed very odd. The clouds referred to in the movie’s title are a phenomenon that sees them snake through the Maloja Pass in Switzlerland. They are ominous and eerie. A perfect metaphor for what Binoche’s Maria is going through. But clouds also obscure what is really going on, and I can’t help wonder if that is a metaphor for this movie also.

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