Olivier Assayas (director)
C G Cinema (studio)
17 March 2017 (released)
Trying to winkle something new from old genres that have almost seen it all is something to be commended. And if not new at least a fresh take or slant. Olivier Assayas tries his best with Personal Shopper: a ghost story that has the right ingredients in place but maybe not quite got the mix right.
Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper for a tyrannical celebrity Kyra played by Nora Von Waldstätten. She also appears to have psychic abilities, something she shared with her twin brother Lewis who has passed away. They also shared a heart-defect that caused his death, and this is something that hangs over Maureen.
The day job carries some responsibility choosing and making decisions for somebody else’s sense of fashion though balanced by the reverence she is treated with in the high-class shops she visits. Nevertheless, it’s quite obvious she finds aspects of it humiliating. There’s little to lighten the bleakness other than her friends and a boyfriend whom she’s in contact with via the internet.
The film has a long opening sequence, virtually silent, which has Maureen in a large empty house wandering around trying to contact her brother. She returns to the house and these sequences are effective, high wire tension and genuinely scary: There is something there, and its ugly.
She soon starts to receive texts from an unknown source and this leads to a rather long, tedious sequence that take place on a day shopping trip to London on the Eurostar. The texts goad her, but she’s been hooked now and despite her instincts Maureen follows her texter’s instructions.
Personal Shopper has a glacial bleachy beauty about it which complements Stewart’s complexion, drab work, dress and job. Counter pointedly it works equally well when she’s trying on her boss’s glamorous clothes a big no-no, who would have been especially displeased had she caught Maureen masturbating while wearing them, in a bizarre though sensual scene.
Kristen Stewart is the lynchpin and to some extent carries the film - as the other characters aren’t really developed in any great way. It's a thoughtful performance as we see her dealing with the deep emotion for her lost sibling, or the absurdity of her thankless job.
It’s a wordy and clever script from Assayas; never actually revealing too much while the players say a lot. It has a very fragmented feel about it, possibly because it morphs between being a ghost story, the more conventional and psychological thriller.
It’s not a film that many are going to warm to but it can be admired. That said, there are some genuine jolts and jumps along the way, along with some out and out horror.