Review: Personal Shopper
Director Olivier Assayas and actress Kristen Stewart re-team following their acclaimed collaboration Clouds of Sils Maria with Personal Shopper - a story that concerns the spiritual world to an unnerving degree.
Stewart plays Maureen, a young stylist working for a major female celebrity in Paris, a job she never dreamed of doing but a means to pay the bills regardless. Maureen spends her days picking up dresses for fashion shows and running other tedious errands, catching glimpses of the world of glitz and glamour, looking from the outside in. At the same time, the recent death of her twin brother Lewis causes her to begin attempting to connect with his spirit from the afterlife, by staying in the home that he died in, hoping to witness something that tells her he's still around.
Assayas appropriates a number of narrative techniques to elevate the sense of dread that permeates the genre-specific elements of Personal Shopper. Most notably, an extended sequence midway through where Maureen is sent a series of text messages from a mysterious number, that can tell where she is and what she is doing at that given moment. Its a chilling scenario and one that feels ripe with Hitchcockian overtones, bringing to light a predicament that feels all too possible in this era of mass surveillance.
Personal Shopper weaves together elements of the horror and thriller genre, but not in the way you would think. It's not the type of story that can stand on its own as a convincing version of either one; rather, it finds its strength in stubbornly rejecting the codes and conventions of both genres, creating something new and dynamic in the process. The all-too-real essence of each scene and Maureen's own position as a spectator to the European fashion world provide an interesting backdrop for such a narrative to be encased in, adding to the intriguing, disparate nature of the entire film.
The notion of identity is another common thread; Maureen having an identical twin, being asked if she would like to become someone else, trying on her employer's dresses in a wickedly indulgent display. The movie changes genres, sure, but having its central character also adorn a number of personalities that go in tandem with the film's structural transformations makes it feel like one is watching several films in one. While some of these mini-narratives are more compelling than others, one has to hand it to Assayas for taking such an unorthodox approach from this perspective, in itself becoming his most unique work in years.
And while the issue has been up for debate in recent years, its time to accept the fact that Kristen Stewart is a phenomenal actress, something that is fully on display here. Stewart is something of an ethereal entity; very evasive and difficult to figure out, a ghost in herself who doesn't really seem all there when talking to people - preferring to do so via computer-based means. But given how much she puts into the role, its Stewart like we've never seen her before; ostensibly the best she's ever been and proof that her time as a Twilight starlet are long over.
Personal Shopper is a fascinating, original, can't-look-away expedition, one that is accentuated through a bravura performance by Kristen Stewart and an interesting reworking of the classic ghost story. It's not going to be for everyone, almost exclusively the arthouse crowd and die-hard Kristen Stewart fans, but its a rewarding film in many respects even if some aspects don't deliver the way you want them to. I promise you won't see another film that deals with the idea of the afterlife like this all year.