Kristen Stewart plays the titular Personal Shopper, who happens to also be able to communicate with ghosts. Personal Shopper is a film with the power to beguile and send you into a rage.
Whenever a Cannes Film Festival audience boos a film, it’s most definitely worth your time. Is the audience up its own pretentious ass or is the film actually horrendous? In almost every instance, a film that elicits that kind of reaction, cannot be missed. For the first time that I’ve ever seen a film that was booed at Cannes I agreed with our beret wearing betters. Personal Shopper made this reviewer hate it immediately. After an hour, discussion with friends and two spiced mojitos I was ready to hear reason. Writer/Director Olivier Assayas’ follow-up to Clouds of Sils Maria, with star and muse Kristen Stewart may be a diamond, instead of a pig wrapped in silk.
Maureen (Stewart) is a personal shopper for a globetrotting model Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). Maureen is also a medium. When her twin brother passes away from a genetic deformity that they share, she uses their shared awareness of the spiritual realm to attempt to make contact. When her attempted contacts graze darker spirits it sends her into reality altering delirium.
Stewart’s Maureen already stands apart. Her life is one of service and negotiation with her employer, bouncing around Paris armed with a supermodel’s terms of ‘adornment.’ Assayas does a great job of shrouding the audience in Maureen’s isolation and melancholy. Underneath the noise, Maureen is vulnerable. Once she dips her toe into the other realm, she’s different. Assayas attempts to ground the spiritual realm with the darkness in Maureen’s life. When she’s contacted by a stranger by text, she becomes enraptured by the virtual companion and in her mind, but never really yours as the audience, she’s vulnerable to emotional exploit. The composition and construction of scenes surrounding Maureen enacting her fantasy and her interactions with the stranger are exquisitely ambivalent. Stewart must carry the entire film, bridging the gap between seemingly distant tones and characters. She plays Maureen with a bitter irritability in the work setting, despite her talent. Stewart feels despondent and lost because of her brother’s passing – she’s lost; his void has created a void in her life. Assayas and Stewart explore the burden of the shadows with authentic insecurity.
Now writing this review, what’s stranger is this may actually be captivating. Wait, there was what felt like 72 hours, in the middle of the film that played out through a text message conversation. Once you start criticising each text for grammatical ‘abbrev’ choices; you know you’re in far too deep. There are moments as Maureen is being manipulated by this anonymous stranger that Assayas locks you in as the voyeur; fulfilling his disturbed fantasy. At the time it felt deviant; but perhaps reflecting; it makes sense for the character’s yearning to be as beautiful and alluring as her employer.
No, what has this movie done to me?!
With Personal Shopper you don’t ask “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” Instead it’s “what came first the fury or the adoration?” The conundrum remains frustratingly unanswered.
Score: Who knows.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Olivier Assayas
Written by: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart … Maureen
Lars Eidinger … Ingo
Sigrid Bouaziz … Lara Anders
Danielsen Lie … Erwin Ty
Olwin … Gary
Nora von Waldstätten … Kyra
Benjamin Biolay … Victor Hugo
Audrey Bonnet … Cassandre
Pascal Rambert … Jérôme