Clouds Of Sils Maria

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Kristen Stewart takes on one of her strongest roles to date.

On certain mornings, when the air is just right, hikers and hillwalkers making their way through the Swiss Alps by the village of Sils might be lucky enough to witness the Maloja Snake winding its way down the mountains.

This majestic beast isn't a serpent, as such, but a legendary phenomenon that occurs in the right weather conditions. As warm air rises up the slopes of the Maloja Pass, it's transformed into magnificent low-rolling clouds which look like a snake.

Throughout Clouds of Sils Maria, by Olivier Assayas, you'll find yourself desperate to finally catch a glimpse of the mysterious mist, which is perhaps a metaphor for the film's message about the fleeting nature of an older actress' career in the movie industry.

Maria Enders, played by Juliette Binoche, is a respected but ageing actor travelling to the Swiss Alps to collect an award on behalf of the playwright who made her career as a young woman. Her trusted assistant, Valentine, played by Kristen Stewart, juggles her boss's commitments and ego in an effortless fashion, putting the rest of us with only one work and one personal phone to shame.

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Maria, with a little convincing from Valentine, agrees to take the part of a character in a revival of the play which originally made her famous, but is shocked to find she's been cast in an older role in the story of sex, desire and control between two women.

The film is tense, with anxieties deepening as Maria is forced to connect with an industry she's no longer in touch with, a character she once pitied and compete with her younger replacement, the hugely popular Jo-Ann Ellis, played by Chloë Grace Moretz. Scenes flit between the play and reality as Maria and Valentine run lines, which reveal glimpses into a darker side of their relationship.

The sexual tension is palpable, with both Binoche and Stewart carrying it off with an energetic vigour which is almost uncomfortable to watch.

Part-funded by fashion-gods Chanel, the film won Stewart a César, the French film industry's highest honour in acting. She very nearly didn't get the part, she told the Hollywood Reporter - it was taken by Mia Wasikowska, so Kristen "fought for it." Luckily, Mia didn't have time in her schedule to take on the role, leaving it open for Stewart.

This film is absolutely worth buying on DVD or downloading from Amazon to see these incredible women take over the screen. If you've watched the trailer, leave your preconceptions at the start button and embrace this dark psychological drama.

We give it 4/5 stars.

Available on DVD 27 July 2015

 

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