What happens in “Clouds of Sils Maria,” the new film from Olivier Assayas? Well, it starts on a train, where a celebrated actress of stage and screen, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), accompanied by Valentine (Kristen Stewart), her personal assistant, is heading to Zurich. There she is scheduled to attend a tribute to a playwright named Wilhelm Melchior, but the plan is thrown awry by the news, en route, that Melchior has died. Nonetheless, the tribute goes ahead, after which the two women meet with his widow, Rosa (Angela Winkler), at her house in the Swiss mountains. She invites them to stay there while she is away. Years before, Melchior wrote a play, “Maloja Snake,” about a female corporate boss who has an affair with a manipulative young woman in her office—originally played by Maria. Now, in middle age, she has been asked to revisit the work, on the London stage, in the role of the older woman, like a Gertrude who was once an Ophelia. And so, at high altitude, Maria rehearses her lines, with Valentine reading the other part, in Melchior’s home and on lung-filling hikes through the hills.
This is a film about acting, and about the boundaries that divide it from
the rest of life.
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