Binoche hits her mark as aging actress in ‘Clouds’

Juliette Binoche plays an aging actress, left, with Kristen Stewart as her assistant in “Clouds of Sils Maria.”
Juliette Binoche plays an aging actress, left, with Kristen Stewart as her assistant in “Clouds of Sils Maria.”

What It’s About: Oh, how quickly the tables turn. In an interesting backstage drama, acclaimed movie star Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is asked to act in a revival of the play that jump-started her career. Only not as the young ingenue Sigrid that made her famous, but as the older character, Helena, in “Clouds of Sils Maria.”

Despite some temperamental displays, she agrees, for the playwright, Wilhelm Melchior, was her mentor, and recently died. The hot shot young director has a different vision for the characters, and Maria is intrigued. She is advised by her level-headed personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to just do it.

She discovers, to her dismay, that the young capricious actress playing Sigrid (Chloe Grace Moretz) is actually a mirror image of herself in her younger days.

Performances: This is a terrific trio of actresses — the classy, elegant Binoche, Oscar winner for “The English Patient,” and the rising star Chloe Grace Moretz (”If I Stay”), in addition to a truly surprising, captivating performance by Kristen Stewart as the devoted personal assistant. Stewart won the Cesar, the French equivalent of the Oscar, for Best Supporting Actress.

Binoche has the airs of a pampered star, but also vulnerable, for she’s going through a difficult divorce. Moretz is channeling Lindsay Lohan, a nice twist for her, showing a darker side. Stewart conveys the exasperation of working for a privileged artist, putting out fires, caught in crossfires, and tired of the whiplash moods she’s forced to deal with as an employee.

What Works: Through this deceptively simple journey, the women find themselves, which is no small feat. The fine acting is a bonus.

The backdrop of the Alps is breathtaking, and the Maloja Snake, a notorious natural phenomena of cloud banks winding around a valley in Switzerland, is used as a metaphor and the title of the play. Footage from a 1924 film about that location appears in this film, too.

The movie is in English, but a majority of the characters are played by Europeans, which adds authenticity.

The movie’s reflections on fame, the passage of time, and the differences between generations are wise and thought-provoking.

What Doesn’t Work: The movie starts slow, and doesn’t get to the meat of the matter for awhile. But give it time, and it will all make sense.

“Clouds of Sils Maria”

Stars: Three

Director: Olivier Assayas

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart, Chloe Grace Moretz

Rated: R for language and brief graphic nudity

Length: 2:04