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'Clouds of Sils Maria' a messy meta movie

Kristen Stewart, left, and Juliette Binoche in a

Kristen Stewart, left, and Juliette Binoche in a scene from "Clouds of Sils Maria." Photo Credit: IFC Films

If there's one thing we need more of in the movies these days, it's great parts for Juliette Binoche.

"Clouds of Sils Maria," the Oscar winner's first collaboration with the French filmmaker Olivier Assayas since 1985's "Rendez-vous," offers her exactly that. So it's hard not to fully embrace it.

Binoche is Maria Enders, a big-time actress grappling with the realities of aging in an unkind profession as she is offered the elder role in a new staging of the play that provided her breakout.

It's a meta-textual endeavor that simultaneously serves as a reflection on Binoche's own stardom and that of her character, who rehearses the play, a lesbian love story between an older and younger woman that ends tragically, with a beautiful assistant (Kristen Stewart), and confronts its notions of jealousy and despair.

The movie has a lot to offer, including shots of clouds rising and parting amid the Swiss Alps that Assayas parallels with the increasing revelations about his protagonist, the character she once was and the woman she is soon to play. He's a deeply cinematic director, unafraid of expressive montage and superimpositions.

Stewart gives a career-best performance, more than capable of holding her own amid the high-minded digressions on fame and show business.

This is just one of those movies that is so in love with its form, so consumed by its abstract artifice, that it loses its grasp on the way people actually think and feel.

With dialogue that largely consists of characters articulating repetitive ideas about the ruthlessness of fame, particularly in the way it objectifies women, and a steadfast disinclination toward dramatic moments, the film becomes an increasingly tough sit.


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