At the peak of her international career, Maria Enders is asked to perform in a revival of the play that made her famous twenty years ago. But back then she played the role of Sigrid, an alluring young girl who disarms and eventually drives her boss Helena to suicide. Now she is being asked to step into the other role, that of the older Helena. She departs with her assistant to rehearse in Sils Maria; a remote region of the Alps. A young Hollywood starlet with a penchant for scandal is to take on the role of Sigrid, and Maria finds herself on the other side of the mirror, face to face with an ambiguously charming woman who is, in essence, an unsettling reflection of herself. Written by
Cannes Film Festival
The enigmatic title refers to both a climatic phenomenon called the "Maloja snake", which occurs in the Engadinean alpine pass in Switzerland, and to a village at one end of a local lake. The village is the home of an elderly playwright who much earlier wrote a work called "The Maloja Snake" about the complicated relationship between a young woman in her late teens (Sigrid) and her middle-aged female employer (Helena). The film is all about the re staging of this play in which actress Maria who originally took the younger role to great acclaim has now been invited to portray the older woman in the new interpretation.
It is unusual, but a pleasing change, for a film to have all its leading roles taken by women. Superb French actress Juliette Binoche, whom I have admired since her early English-language work ("Damage" and "The English Patient"), is Maria, struggling to come to terms with her different role in the play. American actress Kristen Stewart is excellent in the secondary role as Maria's personal assistant Valentine and so different from her "Twilight" movies. The third role is taken by another young American, Chloë Grace Moretz, who is the actress taking over as Sigrid in the play - again a very different persona from the one we have seen before in the "Kick-Ass" movies.
This is a wordy work but the words matter. At times, we are not sure if the interaction between the two main personages is between Helena and Sigrid or between Maria and Valentine and even between Binoche and Stewart. In truth, there are elements of all three which is how subtle and nuanced is this German-French-Swiss co-production written and directed by the French Olivier Assayas. Ultimately this is a film, like near contemporary "Birdman", about acting but, however much the American Academy may have feted "Birdman", I found "Clouds Of Sils Maria" much more intelligible and engaging.
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