Filmmakers love turning the mirror back on their art, and writer-director Olivier Assayas' drama is a worthy contribution to this canon. Its center is noted actress Maria (Juliette Binoche), who agrees to appear in a revival of The Maloja Snake, the dramatic work that launched her career two decades earlier. But now, Maria will portray the insecure, desperate older woman, while a buzz-worthy young actress (Chloe Grace Moretz) steps into the role Maria once held. Functioning as a sounding board, rehearsal partner and emotional foil is Maria's young personal assistant, Val (Kristen Stewart), in a relationship that both mirrors and deconstructs the one in Snake.
Much of the film takes place in a remote corner of the Alps, as the two women talk, bicker and read lines. A prologue establishes Maria's bona fides, while the third act lays bare the inescapable and uncomfortable terrain of Maria's future. (This could be a less-flashy, more thoughtful companion to last year's similarly themed Birdman, but with the added heft of focusing on actresses, who face far more pitfalls from rigid stereotyping and aging.) There's not much action or surface drama, but for viewers willing to dig and sift, there is much to mine in Clouds' many layers. It's not just in the contemporaneous narrative reflected in the Snake drama, but also clips from a junky space opera, TMZ-style reporting and even a silent film of the actual cloud formation known as "the Maloja Snake."