Maria Enders (Binoche) is a internationally famous movie and stage star (who nevertheless feels specter of the oncoming of white dwarf-dom), who received her big break starring as the young Sigrid in the play Maloja Snake by Wilhelm Melchior. The play concerns a heartless young girl ("Sigrid") who seduces a vulnerable older woman ("Helena") and eventually drives her to suicide. Following the suicide of Melchior, Maria joins a revival of Maloja Snake, this time playing the role of the older Helena, and cast as Sigrid is the Lindsay-Lohan-esque tabloid-fodder extraordinaire Jo-Ann Ellis (Moretz).
Maria retreats to Sils Maria, Melchoir's estate in the Swiss Alps to memorize her lines. In tow is her long-suffering and loyal-to-a-fault personal assistant, Valentine (Stewart). And while there, the real world begins to melt into the world of the script.
The film was released to wide acclaim, winning a Louis Delluc Prize for Best Film and a César Award (the French equivalent to the Oscar) for Best Supporting Actress for Kristen Stewart, making her the second American to win one.
This film provides examples of:
- Distaff Counterpart: A number of viewers have labeled the movie as a feminine equivalent to Birdman.
- The Generation Gap: Between Maria and Valentine/Jo-Ann. Mined for quiet comedy in a scene where Valentine tries to explain to a befuddled Maria on why shes a fan of Jo-Ann.
- One Dialogue, Two Conversations: As Valentine and Maria rehearse their way through the script of Maloja Snake, it progressively gets more difficult to tell whether they are talking about their real-life relationship or simply reciting lines.
- One conversation has what appears to be Maria completely losing her temper at Valentine, flipping a table and storming out, after a beat, the camera pans down to the promptbook and Valentine recites the stage directions describing Maria's outburst.
- Only One Name: Valentine is just Valentine.
- Pimped-Out Dress: The film was partially funded by Chanel, thus there are quite a lot of gowns and jewelry on display.
- Scenery Porn: The film was shot on location in the titular Swiss-Alpine village of Sils Maria, and it shows. Also the Clouds themselves.
- Star-Making Role: In-universe, the role of Sigrid is what launched Maria's successful career. Jo-Ann hopes this role in the revival will bring her some credibility.
- Stylistic Suck: Jo-Anns previous film, an incredibly campy mess of YA sci-fi and superhero cliches. Maria, the highbrow veteran actress, is utterly dumbfounded watching it, even taking off her 3D glasses at one point to make sure that what she's watching is real, and bursts out laughing when Valentine tries to defend it.
- Suspiciously Apropos Script: The play Maloja Snake also exactly mirrors the real life situation each of the characters find themselves in.
- Tabloid Melodrama: Jo-Ann simply cannot keep her tempestuous life out of the yellow press. Although it turns out she has a lot more depth than she's letting on. Which becomes a sort of sly nod at the Twilight-era Kristen Stewart.
- The Unsolved Mystery: What happens to Valentine at the end. She simply vanishes as she and Maria hike through the Alps, and it is left ambiguous if she committed suicide or she just decided at that point to walk away from her ungrateful boss. This becomes a callback to the fates of Helena and Melchior, both of whom walked off into the mountains never to be seen again.
- The Vamp: In-universe for Maloja Snake, in which Sigrid deliberately seduces Helena for all she had and then callously leaves her with nothing.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Valentine, and her realization that she's never going to get any appreciation from Maria drives the last third of her character arc.
- White-Dwarf Starlet: Contemplated endlessly, Maria is quite aware that, being an actress of a certain age, there is nowhere else for her to go except down. And just to drive the point home, her star-making role was taken from her and given to a younger actress.