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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Clouds Of Sils Maria

A Rebellion Against Self Doubt

There’s a discomposure that emerges when by traditional merit, one’s glory days inevitably begin slipping away. Clouds Of Sils Maria compassionately but realistically reflects on this discomposure through the eyes of Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche), a veteran actor coming face to face with an uncomfortable look at herself when she agrees to take part in a revival of the play that launched her career 20 years earlier.

It’s always insecurity that shows up to ruin everything, isn’t it? Maria’s fame is not dying down and her career is not ending. There is however a certain unpredictability that people see in those who are younger. A frightening unpredictability but also one that is quite exciting. It is an unpredictability Maria feels she is losing. It’s not how Maria feels she is seen by the world but how she is seen by the world in comparison to others that cause her such distress.

The play Maria is in (Titled Maloja Snake) follows a tempestuous relationship between Sigrid and Helena. Maria played Sigrid in her 20s and is now trying to piece together Helena. Maria and her personal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) travel to Sils Maria, a tiny village in the Swiss Alps where they take residence at the deceased playwright's home to get settled in days before rehearsals begin.

Maria has no boundaries in her relationship with Valentine and Valentine can’t help but enjoy being the inhaler to Maria’s trouble breathing. The responsibility starts to weigh heavily on Valentine. She’s been working for Maria for a long time now and the two are often traveling. Perhaps staying in one place allows Valentine to see just how much Maria depends on her.

Valentine genuinely cares for Maria but she starts to realize that Maria (However unintentionally) is taking her for granted. Valentine has always provided Maria with a sense of validation she can believe. Valentine tests her suspicions by challenging Maria as an artist and trying to get her to look at Helena in ways that make her deeply uncomfortable. Nothing stays the same forever and change is healthy and can be a very positive thing. Valentine tries to get Maria to look at the bigger picture behind the shifting reality but Maria keeps seeing Helena’s vulnerabilities as a weakness she does not want to replicate.

Her insecurities grow when she and Valentine meet with Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), the 19-year-old actor who will be playing Sigrid. Jo-Ann has been involved in numerous scandals and her indifference to them is something Maria finds very off-putting while Valentine admires it. Valentine drags a reluctant Maria to a cinema to see one of Jo-Ann’s popular mainstream films. The two go to a bar afterward to discuss the film. Maria thinks it’s ridiculous and Valentine voices the complexities she saw behind the character’s choices. The more passionate Valentine gets, the more Maria howls with laughs as she sips down alcohol. She spits out her drink on Valentine at one point and Valentine can’t help but laugh with her. While this scene brightly highlights just how insecure Maria is becoming, it also shows how well she and Valentine know each other and how comfortable they are with each other.

Ultimately, none of this matters, if all Valentine is to Maria, is a sounding board for love. Valentine concludes that Maria cares for her but her obsession with her own image will always come first. This becomes more intolerable as the film continues. The two often hike in the Alps and the higher they go, the more they lose in common. The relationship between Sigrid and Helena holds such a mirror to Valentine and Maria’s relationship at this stage that the read-throughs get very passive-aggressive. The two have an argument and an intellectual conversation at the same time.

How Binoche and Stewart compartmentalize the many layers of the read-through scenes is so heart-pounding and yet so simple. It reminds me of All About Eve and Black Swan. Sadly for Maria, there were genuine people out to get Margo Channing and Nina Sayers. Maria is simply at war with her own vanity which increasingly becomes her primal focus leaving Valentine stranded in her ability to help. She can’t help if Maria won’t listen. I don’t think Valentine ever feels any true animosity towards Maria, just a profound sadness that stands so still. She’s absolutely crazy about her, I think she’s just frustrated with her. That kind of relationship is so relatable, isn’t it? We all have people in our own lives we just can’t get enough of and so their criticisms of themselves annoy us.

Clouds Of Sils Maria is a rebellion against self-doubt and Binoche and Stewart channel the film's hidden messages through their chemistry. Stewart in particular really stands out. She’s always played self-sufficient characters and Valentine is definitely the strongest. She effortlessly has something about her that lets you know if things crash and burn, she’ll be ok. She has a resilience that you know she can use when faced with something she doesn’t deserve. We all need a little resilience from time to time. We all have it. It just feels too heavy sometimes. Sometimes less is more.

“Clouds of Sils Maria.” Prime Video, Amazon, 2014,

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