Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Olivier Assayas
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Nora von Waldstatten, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graia.
Kristen Stewart is one of the more interesting actresses of her generation. Following the success of the tween vampire series Twilight, which gave her a higher profile, she has chosen to appear in intriguing and smaller budget art house fare and independent films like Adventureland, Welcome To The Rileys, Still Alice, etc; she played rocker Joan Jett in The Runaways; she has appeared in big budget fantasy films like Snow White And The Huntsman; and worked with great directors like Woody Allen and French filmmaker Olivier Assayas. She won a Cesar, the French equivalent of the Oscar, for her work in Assayas’ moody drama The Clouds Of Sils Maria. Her latest film sees her collaborate again with Assayas, but the results are somewhat less successful than their previous collaboration.
Personal Shopper is a character study that serves up a strange mix of existential ghost story, psycho-sexual thriller and murder mystery. Assayas wrote the film especially for Stewart; she is on screen the whole time and she holds it together.
Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, an American in Paris, who works as a personal shopper for Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten), a wealthy celebrity model whom she rarely sees but who is a demanding boss. Her twin brother Lewis recently died from a congenital heart condition. Maureen is also a medium, a talent she shares with her brother, and she anxiously awaits a sign that he is happy in the afterlife. Both of them made a pact in whichever one of them dies first would try and contact the other from the afterlife. Maureen feels she can’t move on with her life until she hears from Lewis.
In the meantime she leads a rather lonely life and remains emotionally distant from those around her. She also occasionally evaluates houses for potential buyers to ensure that they aren’t haunted by evil spirits. She occasionally communicated via Skype with her boyfriend (Ty Olwin), an IT expert who is working on a project overseas.
Her job often requires her to visit Kyra’s luxurious apartment and she makes the most of her time there, sampling her designer label clothes and creature comforts. On one visit though she encounters Kyra and her enigmatic German boyfriend Ingo (Lars Eidinger) and things take a sinister turn. She begins to receive mysterious text messages that grow increasingly threatening in nature.
Personal Shopper is a psychological drama with supernatural elements and Assayas creates an unsettling mood throughout the film. His direction is restrained and the pacing deliberate, and although this is a ghost story of sorts the film lacks any real gore or scary moments. There is also a lack of a sense of urgency. There is also a slightly voyeuristic feel to the material. The film explores universal themes of grief, loss, religious beliefs, spiritualism, death, and communication. Assayas ultimately fails to deliver any neat resolutions, and it’s ambiguous and anti-climactic ending will frustrate many.
The film is visually impressive, thanks to the superb cinematography from Yorick Le Saux (The Clouds Of Sils Maria, A Bigger Splash, etc), who captures some great shots of the streets of Paris. However, there are a lot of fade to black transitions between scenes that distances us from fully becoming emotionally involved in the drama. But it is also a bit messy and seems disjointed. Stewart is on screen the whole time and provides the strong central focus who anchors the drama. She manages to convey a range of emotions and adds layers to the character of Maureen. She captures the paradoxes and contradictions of her character in a performance that doesn’t rely heavily on dialogue. The role uses Stewart’s spiky screen presence to good effect. Eidinger has a creepy presence as Ingo, Kyra’s mysterious partner, but very few of the rest of the cast register.
Personal Shopper is a deeply personal film for Assayas, but it is also flawed film and is certainly not for everyone.