Filmmaker Olivier Assayas ("Carlos," "Irma Vep") was partly responsible for Juliette Binoche’s big break, and she his: In 1985 she starred in “Rendez-vous,” directed by Andre Techine and cowritten by Techine and Assayas, his first screen credit. They technically reunited for 2008’s “Summer Hours,” but she was just part of an ensemble cast. But with “Clouds of Sils Maria,” she gets the lead role, or at least shares with Kristen Stewart, who plays the cool-tempered personal assistant of Binoche’s very Binoche-y international movie star, who worries that she’s finally being replaced by the young (including a budding star played by Chloe Grace Moretz).
This is a project that Juliette originated. What was the original conception when she pitched it to you?
The original idea was more like, “Why don’t we make a film together?” We’ve known each other forever. It’s disturbing how far back we go. I co-wrote, in 1985, “Rendez-vous,” the movie that put Juliette on the map. And it was my first visible writing credit. What I’m saying is we have a very important moment in our lives in common. So when Juliette called me and said, “We never really made a movie together, we only worked once after that and it was an ensemble piece [“Summer Hours”], why don’t we make a proper film?” I thought she had a point.
There are a lot of meta references in the film, not only to Juliette’s life as an aging movie star, but also to Kristen Stewart playing someone commenting on younger celebrities.
You can take it seriously or you can take it as a game. I think movie is part serious, part a game. When you see Juliette Binoche as herself, playing someone with a career on both sides of the Atlantic, who is a prestigious European actress at a very difficult moment in her life, suddenly everything becomes real around her. Usually when I make movies you have to forget about what you know about these actors. They had to blend into the narrative, become someone else and drag you into a story. They are completely differently characters; that’s what they get awards for. Here it is completely the opposite. We constantly go back and forth between real life and fiction — not in any kind of heavy-handed way. It’s more like a joke.
Although Kristen Stewart is not playing Kristen Stewart. She’s more like her P.A.
But you constantly have in mind that Kristen Stewart’s playing someone who’s different from her. And in a couple scenes there’s the irony of Kristen commenting on herself, which is part of the fun.
She has a great screen presence that isn’t always used.
Kristen is amazing. You’d have to be blind not to see it. Even in the tiniest film she jumps out. I remember seeing her in “Into the Wild,” and she just jumped out of the screen. It was just, “Who’s that girl? She’s great.” I had no idea she would grow and go onto bigger things. I had no idea I would work with her.