What stood out with the Clouds of Sils Maria is how it mainly featured a cast of non-Europeans. Immediately, one is greeted by familiar Hollywood actresses with the likes of Kristen Stewart, and later on, Chloë Grace Moretz. For the greenhorn to European film, the thought that comes to mind is how come these actresses were placed in this film and most especially alongside a veteran such as Juliette Binoche. Even the most unfamiliar with European film can tell how talented Binoche is despite only seeing her for the a few minutes in the film. She commands the attention as the main protagonist gracefully and seems to fully combine her role as Maria Enders with who she really is—a seasoned actress who has been prestigiously awarded. What came as a delightful surprise was how both Stewart and Moretz were able to hold their own alongside Binoche. They were able to fulfill their characters as the young, angsty, and mysterious assistant to Enders and the Lindsay Lohan-esque character portrayed by Stewart and Moretz respectively. Clouds of Sils Maria proved to be both a physically and intellectually provocative film that dealt with feminist themes as well as adding a bit of homosexuality into the mix.
The film focused mainly on the relationship between Enders and Valentine (Stewart) as the former was presented with the reality of time. Majority of the earlier scenes of the film is devoted to Enders reminiscing on her prime as a young actress. The main point which she always highlights was her breakthrough role in a play turned film entitled Maloja’s Snake. To say that she embraced her role as Sigrid in this work would be an understatement as Enders personally admits that she sees herself as that character, and that playing her foil, Helena, would be equivalent to suicide. The build up of the film is quite slow up until the point where Enders reluctantly acquiesces to a director that wishes to remake Maloja’s Snake, with the catch that she plays Helena instead.
From this point onwards, we see Enders attempt to unravel various issues that hinder her from portraying the role of Helena. The realities of aging and waning femininity are presented in a manner which is unpretentious and relatable even to those who are non-female. What aides in this is how the narrative of the film slowly, yet casually, melds with the narrative of Maloja’s Snake. Maria Enders slowly becomes what she detests, unaware that she is embracing the bitterness and vulnerability of Helena as a woman past her prime. Valentine steps up to become the object of Helena’s obsession, transforming to be Enders’s very own Sigrid. This unsurmountable desire for youthfulness is what gives way for the film’s more provocative scenes. The hunger Enders possesses for youthfulness and her inability to come to terms with the femininity that comes with her age takes the form of Valentine’s supple and pristine body. Countless scenes are devoted to show Enders’s sexualized gaze on Valentine, placing emphasis on how deeply Enders craves the youthfulness and demeanor she naturally lost to time.
The turning point for Enders exacts the toll of having Valentine depart from her life completely, with little to no explanation. The audience is then introduced to a more docile and somewhat dimmer version of what was Maria Enders. Signifying her acceptance of time’s effects, Enders is seen to submit easily when Moretz’s character ignores her pleas to share the spotlight with her.
Clouds of Sils Maria is able to unabashedly relay a universal tale of dealing the realities of youthfulness and femininity that is delivered across despite of having a male director at the helms. The centrality of the women in the narrative bolsters the genuineness of the difficulty of facing the said realities.