Movie review: See two great acting performances in "Clouds of Sils Maria"

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The winding drama “Clouds of Sils Maria” is ambitious and uneven, but it offers a showcase for two great actresses: one you might suspect, one you might not.

Juliette Binoche plays Maria Enders, an esteemed actor who is returning to pay tribute to the author of the play that made her famous 20 years earlier. As she travels to Switzerland, her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) informs her of the playwright’s death.

When Maria is soon asked to star in a revival of the play — in a different role — she gets a forced reflection on her career over the years.

Kudos to director Olivier Assayas (“Summer Hours”) for exploring the fickle fascination with youth among actresses in a way that doesn’t feel patronizing, thanks in no small part to the grounding performance of the always great Binoche.

What you might not expect is how grounded and strong Stewart’s performance is — given that “grounded” and “strong” were not words often used to describe her as Bella in the “Twilight” movies.

Stewart even has some juicy digs at young Hollywood in the form of a talented but wild young actress (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is cast in the role Maria made famous years before.

“Clouds of Sils Maria” works best as a character study, particularly when Binoche and Stewart get to interact. It does stray in a few more directions, and Moretz’s character draws the short straw in being fleshed-out, a shame since she’s a fine young actress on her own right.

Like “Birdman,” “Clouds” examines the craft of acting as it plays out over a career. It’s worth seeing for the performances alone.

Photo courtesy of IFC Films

"Clouds of Sils Maria"

3 stars out of 4

Opens Friday at the Drexel Theater and Gateway Film Center