Sils-MariaAn actress battles her insecurities while preparing for the role of a lifetime in the memorizing new Oliver Assayas film Clouds of Sils Maria. Juliette Binoche steps into the role of actress Maria Enders who owes her career to an acclaimed playwright who helped jump start her career in a play called Maloja Snake, where she played a young girl who has a tempestuous relationship with an older woman whom she drives to suicide.

When on a train ride to Zurich, Switzerland with her assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to accept an award on behalf of the playwright she finds out of the writer’s sudden death. At the advice of Valentine she decides to  accept the award to play tribute to his legacy he left behind. At the ceremony a young director approaches her to star in a stage revival of Maloja Snake– this time playing the opposite character she played all those years ago. Reluctantly Maria takes the role after finding out that a young American actress named Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) who has been in the tabloid limelight has been cast to play the young woman. When Maria and Valentine retreat to the mountains of Sils Maria in Switzerland to stay at the home of the playwright’s widow to prepare for the role Maria finds herself in over her head as she tries to tackle the emotionally demanding role.

Sils-MariaIn what could have been another scathing letter to the inner-workings of Hollywood Assayas film manages to be an intimate character study of the three women. The esoteric French production side steps the obvious All About Eve premise becoming an insightful reflection on age, and the pursuit of fame versus the longing to be taken seriously.  It would be a nice double feature with last years best picture of winner Birdman, which had a similar inner struggle with its lead character.

The real standout performance here is Ms. Stewart who finally has fully lived up to her creative potential in her flawless scenes with Binoche. It’s one of the most unmovie star-like roles she could have possibly taken on. Stewart’s Val makes juggling phones and relaying messages for her boss look easy. Her report with Maria is fascinating to watch unfold as she almost becomes her creative equal as she helps her run lines.  It’s interesting that the film almost plays off Stewart’s own private life. Like the role of the Jo-Ann in the film she herself is a big star, and has her own fill of tabloid scandal. What’s great about her role as Val is that she’s so wonderfully normal, and is used to being in the background of the Hollywood scene. I have the feeling that this is the type of role that Stewart herself feels more comfortable in.

Stewart has had quite the career defining past year with her terrific turns in Still Alice, and Camp X-Ray. Clouds of Sils Maria has rightly earned her the best reviews of her career, and a Ceasar Award for best supporting actress. (Which is impressive in its own right since no other American actress can say the same thing) Today when it seems that audiences want complete likeability in leading ladies Stewart still manages to be her low key self in quiet roles like these. Now that she has all her Twilight paychecks cashed I expect Stewart to do more personal films like all the projects she did in 2014. Stewart’s effortless talent has always been there, and it’s nice to know it’s finally being put to good use.

4.5 out of 5 stars