The distinctively complicated relationship between a celebrity and personal assistant coincides with an aging actress' realization that she can no longer play the ingénue in "Clouds of Sils Maria," an understated character drama from writer-director Olivier Assayas (2009's resplendent "Summer Hours"). Over twenty years ago, Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) launched her career with the star-making role of Sigrid in master playwright-filmmaker Wilhelm Melchior's play (and later film), "Maloja Snake." En route to Zurich with dedicated assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart) to accept a lifetime achievement award on Melchior's behalf, Maria learns that he has died suddenly of a heart attack. His body is barely cold yet when she is approached by respected director Klaus Diesterweg (Lars Eidinger) to star in a London production of a "Maloja Snake" sequel, with Hollywood starlet Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloë Grace Moretz) set to take over Sigrid and Maria now in the role of the manipulated, middle-aged Helena. Feeling a protectiveness to Sigrid and seeing too many parallels for comfort between herself and Helena, Maria is unsure if she is emotionally capable of taking on a part that hits so close to home.
There have not been many films that get to the heart of the unique rapport between a celeb and their assistant, and it is the unusual dichotomy between Maria and Valentine which "Clouds of Sils Maria" observantly tackles. Regularly juggling two electronic devices at a time as she handles Maria's affairs, Valentine works hard to compensate for a job she knows she was underqualified to get. Employee, consultant, and a friend on the payroll—Valentine must be all of these things and is happy to fulfill said requirements until she starts feeling used and less than appreciated. They may spend a lot of time together—usually with Valentine acting as Maria's sounding board to all her insecurities—but their relationship is still business even when it's personal. This isn't entirely Maria's fault, either, but simply the way it is when one person is working for another.
See Dustin Putman, TheFilmFile.com. for full review