The film begins as it presents two women, possibly with an age gap of 20 years are on a train on the way to Zurich to acclaim the man who provided her (Maria) with her first role and stardom, Wilhelm Melchior, who also had passed away. Coming across director Klaus Diesterweg during the tribute, who wishes to stage the Maloja Snake persuades Maria, the well-renowned actress, into playing Helena. Val (Kristen Stewart) encourages her to take this part and strongly believed it was a good opportunity for her, even if she felt detached from the character of Helena since she played Sigrid (the younger character) when she was younger.
Things take a turn when Maria accepts the job and runs lines with her assistant, Valentine. We see them having a hard time separating from their true selves, they end up strongly identifying with their characters. The cinematic experience is unlike any other as we feel the tension between the two. Due to much conflict between them, Val just disappears all of a sudden as they were hiking to see the Maloja snake.
Assuming the role of the older woman, paved the way for Maria to realise a lot of things. More complications arise as the divide between her personal life and career was slowly blurring. Not only for her, but for her assistant as well. The audience is given an outpouring of dialogue, allowing us to seep through their words and their true feelings and emotions, as we watch the plot organically unfold before us. The character dynamics is incredible and well-played out, with Val’s hostility and Maria’s passion for her craft. We see them play power games with each other as Maria prepares for her role running lines in the house. The sexual tension and immense desire is felt all throughout the movie; they are rather translucent with their feelings, yet they don’t speak of it nor take action. Many aspects of the play reflects their personal lives, which caused quite a hysteria between the two.
The film is strange yet beautifully crafted uncovering many elements of what it means to be a woman, depicting the different stages of a woman’s life. There is a pressure that women have to conform to that was evident in the film and in the obstacles the characters faced. The movie also touches up on the difficulty of adapting through time and change. Maria finds comfort in Val who provides emotional and executive assistance to her boss, possibly due to the fact that she misses her younger self and identifies with Val’s youth.
We see these two women (Stewart and Binoche) take on daring roles, that require them to create “sparks” between them through solely their conversations and eye contact— without the physicality of it all, which they successfully achieved. It is also exploratory in a sense, with regards to the lives of celebrities and gives greater appreciation for the gruelling process of their job, similar to Holy Motors. As if we’re watching celebrity frenzy from a distance the same way Val is.
Throughout the movie, the viewers are treated with heavenly views of the Swiss alps. It is like a visual treat of watching art and life come together. A tale focused on soul-searching, we see a woman in the midst of contending with her personal life and professional life.