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​Criterion Celebrates the Films That Forever Shifted Our Perception of Kristen Stewart​ | Features

​Criterion Celebrates the Films That Forever Shifted Our Perception of Kristen Stewart​ | Features

Close on the heels of starring in a less-successful arthouse drama, Walter Salles’ big-screen adaptation of On the Road, Stewart’s turn in “Clouds of Sils Maria” demonstrated that she was a formidable actress, more than holding her own against the legendary Binoche. But there was also something appealingly meta about the performance, too. At one point, Stewart’s no-nonsense character Val comes to the defense of a starlet, Jo-Ann (played by Chloë Grace Moretz), who has been part of a brainless blockbuster franchise but will now be Binoche’s costar in a new movie. Val argues that Jo-Ann is deserving of respect—it’s not easy to be a woman leading a major Hollywood tentpole, she says—and the comparisons to Stewart’s own “Twilight” odyssey are impossible to miss. In “Clouds of Sils Maria,” Stewart slyly sticks up for her past while saying goodbye to it. In the process, she took home Best Supporting Actress at the Césars Awards, the rare American to win an acting prize from the French.

Her second outing with Assayas is even more remarkable. Throughout her career to that point, Stewart had exuded a beguiling mysteriousness—a sense that she inhabited this plane, but was also partly somewhere else. It’s a quality she shared with Pattinson, which made them well-suited as onscreen lovers in the “Twilight” movies. (Even when the films were flimsy, they had an ethereal rapport—like they operated on a wavelength only they occupied.) But that enigmatic quality has never been used more effectively than in “Personal Shopper,” in which Stewart plays Maureen, another assistant of sorts—this time to a supermodel (Nora Von Waldstätten). Mourning the death of her twin brother Lewis, Maureen (who is powerfully attuned to the spirit world) is convinced Lewis will contact him from the other side, leading to strange happenings in his house—and, later, disturbingly personal text messages she starts to receive from an unknown source. Are they connected?

Like with “Clouds of Sils Maria,” “Personal Shopper” can be read as a critique of stardom, with Stewart as the decidedly ordinary personal shopper whose job it is to make sure her glamorous employer is always decked out in the hottest fashions. But because Assayas teases out several mysteries throughout the film—none of which he’s concerned with resolving—Stewart’s muted, vulnerable performance heightens the tension. A film about both grief and women’s fear of being stalked by a relentless potential assailant, “Personal Shopper” is, to date, Stewart’s greatest achievement—a highlight reel of her edgy, off-kilter demeanor and the quiet intensity she can bring to the seemingly simplest of roles. Few ghost stories are as moving.

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