Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is a famous international movie star and stage actress. She travels with a loyal young American assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart). She owes her career to having been cast, 20 years earlier, in both the play and film versions of Maloja Snake by Wilhelm Melchior, a now elderly Swiss playwright. The play centers on the tempestuous relationship between a callous young girl (“Sigrid”) and a vulnerable older woman (“Helena”) who is eventually driven to suicide.
While traveling to Zurich to accept an award on behalf of Melchior, and planning to visit him the following day at his house in Sils Maria—a remote settlement in the Alps—Maria learns of his sudden death. His widow Rosa later confides in her that Wilhelm’s death was suicide and that he had been terminally ill. During the awards ceremony, Maria is approached by a popular theatre director who is trying to persuade her to appear on stage in Maloja Snake again, but this time in the role of the older woman.
Maria is torn and only reluctantly accepts. To prepare for the role she accepts Rosa’s offer of the Melchiors’ house in Sils Maria, which Rosa is leaving to escape her memories of Wilhelm. Maria’s discussions with Valentine and their read-throughs of the play’s scenes combine to evoke uncertainty about the nature of their actual relationship.
A hot young American actress, Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz), has been chosen to interpret the role of “Sigrid”, but her scandals are ubiquitous in Google searches, YouTube videos, and tidbits of contemporary cultural knowledge as relayed by Valentine to the somewhat out-of-touch, middle-aged Maria.
Questions regarding aging, time, culture and the thin line between the characters of the-play-in-the-film and those we are seeing on the screen multiply. Maria and Jo-Ann finally meet, but their relationship is complicated by yet another eruption of chaos in Jo-Ann’s life (she has driven the German wife of her new British, novelist boyfriend to attempt suicide)
Maria and Valentine spend much of their days hiking in the Alps and on a final such outing—to observe a mysterious early morning meteorological / geological phenomenon (the “Maloja Snake” of the play’s title)—the disconsolate Valentine disappears without explanation.
Six weeks later, the key to the resolution is offered by a young filmmaker who visits Maria by appointment five minutes before curtain on the opening night of Maloja Snake in London, but she seems preoccupied and dismisses the offering as “too abstract for me”. The final scene of the film indicates however that the penny may have dropped…or not; she is on stage, smoking and waiting for “Sigrid” to pass through the offices collecting outgoing folders.
Clouds of Sils Maria
Directed by: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloë Grace Moretz, Lars Eidinger, Angela Winkler, Claire Tran, Brady Corbet
Screenplay by: Olivier Assayas
Production Design by: François-Renaud Labarthe
Cinematography by: Yorick Le Saux
Film Editing by: Marion Monnier
Costume Design by: Jürgen Doering
Set Decoration by: Gabriele Wolff
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief graphic nudity.
Studio: Sundance Selects
Release Date: April 10, 2015