An actor unravels as she prepares to abandon her youth and embrace her maturity, reassembling herself in the process, in Olivier Assayas' unintentionally (though appropriately) stagey Clouds of Sils Maria. Identity unspools and reconfigures itself as her environment, her acquaintances, her actions, resulting in a ripe, generous inquiry into the very nature of this figure, played by Juliette Binoche with an inspiring dedication. Assayas' inquiry is at once indefinite yet too neat and precise, the cinematic literacy he employs in exploring it at once varied yet trite. He communicates the answers to the questions he poses in analysis, specifically of the fictional dramatic text which Binoche's character is rehearsing, thus often drawing the answers back upon their origins in the banal connections he draws between fiction and reality. Clouds of Sils Maria is a literal, verbose film, but one that can't actually verbalise its own purpose, beyond serving as an examination into a mind and body on the tipping point between youth and old age, past and future - in short, the present. The gentle touch that Assayas uses in suggesting the effects of time on identity, and on our perception of life itself, is perfectly suited to its material - the film glides through its timeline like the Maloja Snake, sidling past momentous moments, in blissful naivety. Although his dialogue offers plenty for his actors to mull over and chew upon, Sils Maria is at its strongest when it operates primarily on a visual level, with Assayas' cumbersome, florid script gutting many scenes of their credibility. Binoche is the only actor to truly make her lines sound viable within the context of her character; she gives a forceful, indelible performance. Kristen Stewart's innate spontaneity as a performer jars with the over-rehearsed nature of her own lines, though she too does an effective job.