Clouds of Sils Maria may not cut as deeply as Olivier Assayas's movies tend to. But then its greatest value may lie in the fact that it gives two fine actresses something intriguing to dive into. Juliette Binoche, as fictional movie diva Maria Enders, looks no-age, in that vibrant, alive-to-the-world way. But to watch Maria reckoning with the reality that the actresses yapping at her heels are getting younger and younger is to be reminded that, eventually, we'll all be replaced.
When we meet her, she's on a train wending its way through the European countryside, en route to Switzerland for a tribute to her mentor, a playwright named Wilhelm Melchior who gave her a career-launching role at age eighteen. Maria's assistant, Valentine (Kristen Stewart), is right by her side, but also, it seems, in her hair. A hotshot director (Lars Eidinger) wants Maria to appear in a revival of Wilhelm's play, about a young woman who seduces and destroys an older one — only this time, Maria won't be playing the ingénue. But the movie's true center is the half-prickly, half-affectionate interplay between Binoche and Stewart. Stewart betrays her exasperation with her boss with little more than a slight eye-roll, or an exhausted shrug. Valentine is eager to get on with becoming something -- but before that can happen, she needs to stop being an assistant. Maria never asks her what she might like to do with her life, probably because she doesn't want to know: After all, the moment Valentine moves on is the moment Maria loses her forever.