Clouds of Sils Maria review

Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria
Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria

There are the kinds of films which punch you in the gut and suck you right in from the get-go, and those which slowly and rather deliciously and inexorably entice you in over the full course of the story.

Both can be equally rewarding of course.

Clouds of Sils Maria comes from the latter camp, and is well worth a big tick on your festival schedule.

The always wonderful Juliette Binoche (The English Patient, Damage) plays almost a possible version of her own self, a famous French actress Maria Enders who agrees to return to the stage and the play which launched her career two decades earlier.

Instead of playing the part of the teen seductress as she'd done to critical acclaim in the original version, she will play the role of the older woman who falls victim to the younger's charms.

It's a brave choice, and a fraught one. The relationships which populate her life will both enhance and detract from her commitment and her confidence, as her precious ego takes a hammering from within and beyond her.

At her side is her loyal personal assistant Val, played with a streetwise and gently potent edge by Kristen Stewart (Twlight, Still Alice). As life imitates art and back again, this dynamic is mined for maximum impact, and both actresses embody that dynamic and their characters in the most layered of ways.

Also taking the stage here is Chloë Grace Moretz as Jo-Anne. Straight out of rehab, she's a young actress borne of the internet generation; hard, cynical, ambitious, caustic, she is cast opposite Enders in the role she herself held so dear. She will bring her own set of problems.

Most of the story is set in the mystical Swiss Alps, and that backdrop is vital to the narrative - not just in a visual sense, but a metaphorical one too, casting its own spell on the audience.

It took its time, but Clouds of Sils Maris is definitely a memorable and thought-provoking festival watch driven home by the excellent performances and chemistry between Binoche and Stewart.

A worthy four stars.

Clouds of Sils Maria is playing at the 2015 New Zealand Film Festival.

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     Clouds of Sils Maria:: Director: Olivier Assayas:: Starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz, Brady Corbet, Johnny Flynn, Claire Tran:: Rating: M - Offensive language:: Running Time: 124 minutes

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