IN THEATERS (SF) – “Clouds of Sils Maria”

imagesClouds of Sils Maria (2015; Dir.: Olivier Assayas)

GRADE: B+

By Daniel Barnes

*Now playing at the Embarcadero Center Cinemas in San Francisco, the Albany Twin in Albany, and the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

Oliver Assayas directs Juliette Binoche as an insecure actress who agrees to appear in a new production of the play that made her famous, only this time in the older woman role instead of the ingénue part.  Although Clouds of Sils Maria is essentially a three-woman picture, with Kristen Stewart as an overworked personal assistant and Chloe Grace Moretz as the TMZ-gen Eve to Binoche’s Margo Channing, the narrative is incredibly dense, and it takes Assayas the entire first act just to unpack it all and lay it on the bed.  As Binoche and Stewart retreat to a mountain villa, the separation between performance and reality grows blurry – are they just running through lines, or picking at the scab of their own older woman/ingénue dynamic?  The film explores the psychology of female role-play with depth and intelligence, and the performances are outstanding – Binoche brings her expected ethereal complexity, and a newly affectation-free Stewart cuts through her aura like vinegar through grease.