Review: Clouds of Sils Maria

Last Updated on August 2, 2021


PLOT: Twenty years after playing a controversial part on stage, veteran actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is asked to star in a new mounting of the play – albeit this time in a supporting part with her former role taken over by a Hollywood starlet (Chloe Grace Moretz). She prepares for the part by secluding herself in Sils Maria, Switzerland, with her combative, independent young assistant (Kristen Stewart). 

REVIEW: A few months ago, Kristen Stewart became the first American actress to win a César Award (the French equivalent to the Oscars) thanks to her part in Olivier Assayas’ CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA. Close to a year after its Cannes debut, the movie is finally getting a North American release and while it probably won’t make too a big splash outside of art houses, it’s nonetheless an interesting character piece and further proof that there’s way more to Stewart than TWILIGHT.


CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA actually feels like something of a follow-up to Assayas’ IRMA VEP, which took a kind of meta-look at the creation of a European art-house movie, filled with digs at the American mainstream films of the time. SILS MARIA is similar in that Juliette Binoche seems to be playing a kind of version of herself (just like Maggie Cheung did in IRMA VEP) with Enders maintaining her career through periodic appearances in superhero movies. She’s supposed to have become famous in the U.S by playing Nemesis in an X-MEN movie, which is amusing if you know the character. Enders obvious disdain for her commercial work is interesting, especially given how Binoche herself was recently wasted in an utterly thankless part in GODZILLA, where she didn’t even make it through the first ten minutes before being killed off.

However, CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA is not exactly Binoche’s BIRDMAN, with the majority of the film concerning her relationship with Stewart’s young assistant. Enders is studying to play a middle-aged woman who succumbs to a younger woman’s charms, and her dynamic with Stewart starts to parallel the play’s story, as Stewart’s character starts to challenge Binoche’s Enders on her snobbishness and her reluctance to let go of her past accomplishments.  


For the most part, this is a straight character piece, made dynamic by Binoche and Stewart’s powerhouse performances and the stunning Sils Maria location photography, giving this intimate story an almost epic feel (helped by Assayas’ strong use of a 2:35:1 aspect ratio). Both characters are interesting, especially Stewart’s, although there are certain bits that don’t quite work. At one point, Binoche and Stewart take a trip to St. Moritz so they can see the big superhero movie that made Moretz’ character a superstar. Moretz is playing a character that seems strongly modeled on Stewart herself – right down to her personal life being a tabloid fixture. Here, Stewart’s impassioned defense of Moretz’ acting skills in a clearly disposable film feels a little too meta, as does a subplot where Moretz’ falls for a married man – which seems based specifically on Stewart’s own relationship with her SNOW WHITE & THE HUNTSMAN director Rupert Sanders. The parallels are so obvious they have to be intentional, but this breaks the spell of the film a bit.


In the end, CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA is a good character piece, boasting strong work from Binoche and Stewart. While it ultimately feels little familiar in that it’s yet another story of a performer relating too closely with the part they’re playing, it’s still a worthwhile film and worth checking out.



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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.