Personal Shopper, 2016.
Directed by Olivier Assayas.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie and Ty Olwin.
Maureen serves as a personal shopper for the rich and famous. Residing in Paris, she also practices as a medium with the hope of contacting her recently deceased twin brother. Channelling two greatly conflicting lifestyles, soon her worlds collide, forming an uncompromising and unpredictable landscape of which she must boldly navigate.
Upon the initial viewing of Olivier Assayas’ latest in June, one was convinced there wouldn’t be a more exquisitely uncategorisable and ambitious film in 2016. Then this author’s heart brutally sank when original distributor Metrodome Group fell into administration and it looked as though Personal Shopper‘s future in the United Kingdom was seriously jeopardised. Thank heavens then, that some months later, independent titan Icon Film stepped in and saved the day; granting the Festival de Cannes award-winner a new lease of life in 2017.
Upon the second viewing – which is screening at the 60th BFI London Film Festival as part of the ever-popular Dare strand – one still feels the same way. In fact, Assayas’ follow-up to the simply splendid Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) is filmmaking at its most ambidextrous and tactile; endlessly inventive, unfathomably surprising. The immeasurably brilliant Kristen Stewart delivers a luminous central performance as a conflicted soul, consumed by the feverish underbelly of Parisian fashion despite her attempts to penetrate the spirit world. She features in virtually every frame here, and commands as such with mesmerising power. Few performers can keep up with her calibre; leaving them breathless in her rearview mirror as she surges from incredible role to incredible role.
There is little doubt that Personal Shopper will perplex and dumbfound the many, and quite rightly so. Assayas’ nuanced composition is fluent with mediative subtext and ethereal imagery. His camera and the delicate way it parades through the streets and apartments lingers with ghostly grandeur. He aims to spine-chill and does so with tremendous finesse. Narratively his screenplay is part fashionista drama – sleek with ravishing leathers and linens – and part bewitching supernatural horror, but honestly attempting to pigeonhole such a work is an aimless task. Just when you think you have sussed a story beat, the rug is pulled from your feet, leaving the spectator tumbling at ferocious speed.
Assayas deftly understands that cinema is a visual medium, and ensures that in-drama devices help render and characterise his scenes. An impeccable prolonged exchange between Maureen and an unknown assailant fiendishly plays out over Apple’s iMessage service; optimising the sights and sounds of our handheld communicators to evoke a palpable sense of dread. Those three little dots to indicate message composing have never been more torturous, and that incoming ping alert never more deafening. Thematically the scene is Stewart’s character boarding the Eurostar to London St. Pancras International and back again, but tonally it broods and swells with a unmistakable malice. To be able to make the mundane feel so intoxicatingly urgent is something only a master auteur could achieve.
The less you know about Personal Shopper, the more beguilingly marvellous the experience is. This is a cinematic Pandora’s Box; crammed full of secrets, intrigue and mystery. Assayas has formed a soulfully scary representation of humanity’s most peculiar shades, and Stewart’s thunderous work – easily the best performance of the year – ensures that it’ll be an experience never forgotten. To call it a masterpiece would be an understatement.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★