Personal Shopper, 2016.
Written and Directed by Olivier Assayas.
Starring Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Nora von Waldstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie, Sigrid Bouaziz, Ty Olwin, and Benjamin Biolay.
Revolves around a ghost story that takes place in the fashion underworld of Paris.
Add another tick to the win column for Kristen Stewart (who has broken free from the overbearingly negative stigma of Twilight going on to deliver a number of remarkable performances, and is re-teaming with her Clouds of Sils Maria writer and director Olivier Assayas) as English/French film Personal Shopper sees the actress turn in her most accomplished work to date. The downside is that the twisty, genre-mixing thriller isn’t necessarily the strongest filmmaking achievement she has appeared in, even if there is a hell of a lot to admire within.
Assayas has essentially crafted a piece of art where the middle act is all at once suffused with dread (that miraculously comes from an intense texting sequence built on the always intriguing foundation of “who the f*** is stalking and terrorizing our heroine), but also one only mildly tethered to the core narrative of Maureen (Kristen Stewart) seeking a paranormal sign of afterlife presence deep in the heart of death site of twin brother Lewis, high-fashion obsessed Paris, France. It is both the best and worst part of Personal Shopper, an artistic offering with too many concepts on its mind. Structurally, the film is a bit of a disjointed mess, even if all of its moving parts are effectively suspenseful as individual sections. Admittedly, they are all somewhat linked thematically, but there’s an unshakable sensation that the film is shifting gears too drastically.
What does work for Personal Shopper is its exploration of loss and the myriad of ways each individual copes with the passing of a loved one. Maureen is emotionally consumed by a sibling pact made with her now deceased brother where the first to kick the bucket (both of them are burdened with a terminal heart malformation that will eventually do them in) would contact the other from whatever lies beyond the grave, if anything does at all. The results are a gripping character study that present difficult questions to the audience regarding accepting death and loss to continue living one’s own life to the fullest.
Maureen has no direction in life; she’s “waiting” for what feels like an eternity for her brother Lewis to make good on this deal, setting her on a bizarre path of an identity crisis permeated with self-confessed shame. Again, hats off to Kristen Stewart for adding multiple layers of character depth via a performance involving fidgety lost-in-the-woods behavior and an overwhelmingly absorbing mentality that happiness, work, boyfriends, life period, hangs in stasis until she gets her definitive proof Lewis is with her on the other side.
Naturally, there are apparitions, surprisingly some of them even physically visible (which actually works considering that Assayas is a talented director containing the sense to hide the shoddiness of the special effects behind fittingly tuned lighting), but those that require straight answers for complete satisfaction will find frustrations with Personal Shopper. Honestly, that’s their problem for demanding every narrative be spoon-fed to them. Whether or not one of the ghosts is Lewis is irrelevant; Personal Shopper is about loss and closure, alongside finding that strength to push forward.
The problem is that again, an unnecessary chunk of the film is about a mysterious stalker, all leading to a disappointingly anti-climatic resolution. Furthermore, while the reveal isn’t necessarily predictable, the deliberately paced nature of Personal Shopper will ensure that minds will occasionally wander off in the distance, and during those fleeting moments audiences are bound to neurotically guess the identify of the unnerving and increasingly creepy unknown caller, arriving to the correct conclusion. It has to be stated again by the way that the reveal falls wholly flat, almost feeling like an afterthought. There are also a bunch of fade-to-black scene transitions (honestly, the whole film abuses this to an annoying degree) during what should have been an intense stand-off exploding with explained motivations, furthering robbing the segment of any emotional investment. Reading between the lines, there IS a highly plausible motive, but it still rings hollow as the whole second act simply feels like a different film entirely.
Still, Olivier Assayas is operating under a strong scale of originality and ambition. It’s refreshing knowing for once that the ghost isn’t some demonic presence that needs compelling from Christ. Personal Shopper is a weird take on traditional ghost stories; it twists and turns into a separate movie even, but not before finishing strong with a powerful statement on the afterlife and life without those precious to us. Kristen Stewart continues her sizzling streak of winning turns in largely under-the-radar independent gems, also here expanding on a successful rapport with the director that basically coached her to a Cesar Award (the equivalent of a French Oscar) in 2014. Hopefully the duo collaborate for a third stimulating project, as Stewart makes a great muse for the avant-garde mind of Olivier Assayas.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★