The showbiz melodrama centers on an aging actress, Maria (Binoche), struggling to find her place in a film industry she no longer understands. Her loyal personal assistant Valentine (Stewart) convinces her to take part in a play about a tragic May-September lesbian romance. Maria rose to fame playing the younger lover in the same play decades ago, so she bristles at being asked to now play the older woman. Cast in the younger role is rising Hollywood starlet Jo-Ann (Moretz), who immediately entrances Stewart. Already feeling discarded by her profession for her wrinkles, Maria has difficulty accepting Valentine’s wandering eye as well.
Assayas is already known for “lik[ing] his leading ladies unpredictable and punk, crafting wild pipe-bomb thrillers to suit the feral energy of muses such as Maggie Cheung (Irma Vep), Chloe Sevigny (Demonlover) and Asia Argento (Boarding Gate),” according to Variety’s Peter Debruge. But apparently Clouds of Sils Maria was partly inspired by Binoche’s challenge to the director that he make a film that rings true to the female experience.
Whether Assayas accomplished that won’t be known until the film is released beyond Cannes. The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy does note, though, that “the majority of the film’s two hours is devoted to scenes involving Binoche and Stewart, sometimes with others but mostly alone, so for anyone who enjoys watching these two excellent actresses knocking it back and forth as their characters cope with the myriad issues surrounding a performing career, there is much to behold.”