Review: Personal Shopper (2016)


Personal Shopper (2016)

Directed by: Olivier Assayas | 102 minutes | drama, thriller | Actors: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graïa, Nora von Waldstätten, Benjamin Biolay, Audrey Bonnet, Pascal Rambert, Aurélia Petit

‘Personal Shopper’ is an unsolvable puzzle. It is a thriller without direction that also has that typical elusiveness of French cinema. While this style and lack of narrative arc lead to little emotional engagement, it is definitely an interesting film that is certainly not without suspense.

American twenty-something Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart) lives and works in Paris as a personal shopper for spoiled star Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). During the day she scours boutiques and couture racks, but she fills her evenings with her interest in the paranormal. Maureen and her late twin brother Lewis shared a heart defect and a supernatural gift, and before his sudden death, the two made a pact: the first to die signals the other side. And so Maureen haunts the imposing old mansion where Lewis died at night, hoping to hear from him. Then, when she begins to receive mysterious messages from a stranger, she begins to wonder if they come from beyond.

French director Olivier Assayas likes to work with the same people, and that is certainly the case with the cast and crew of ‘Personal Shopper’. For Stewart, it is the second collaboration with Assayas since ‘Clouds of Sils Maria’ (2014), the film that earned her several awards, including the prestigious César. The director wrote ‘Personal Shopper’ especially for Stewart, who was immediately impressed. Her main character is therefore very Stewart-esque – although the actress is generally known for portraying her characters more or less the same. It’s one of her biggest weaknesses that many of her roles are tied together with the same tics and tricks over and over again. This includes Maureen, who goes through life sullen and antisocial, blinks a lot when she speaks and also does the well-known stuttering during stressful moments. For ‘Personal Shopper’ they forgive her somewhat; the role is literally made for her. As Maureen she intrigues, and Assayas never stays far from her with his camera that captures every facial expression.

With ‘Personal Shopper’ Assayas delivers a special film that is audiovisually appealing. Beautifully designed shots, excellently chosen clothing – not unimportant in a fashion-conscious film – and fascinating choices are also made in the soundtrack, in which string music that evokes images of the court of Louis XIV is alternated with Marlene Dietrich’s Das Hobellied. But what’s most noticeable is how close the camera stays on top of Stewart, on her face, on her functionally naked body. It is as if Assayas wants to express with his film how much he adores his new muse. An additional effect of this is that Maureen’s already lonely character offers little opportunity for cultivating a bond with the viewer; she remains an elusive, mysterious being, a pretty picture to look at but not a deep personality. The magic of the spectacle is therefore immediately broken when the sparse, poorly written dialogues present themselves, which also give Stewart the chance to choose herself over her character. Ultimately, this ethereal spectacle leaves you with a ton of unanswered questions. The amount of balls thrown but never caught is reminiscent of Villeneuve’s ‘Enemy’ (2013), and perhaps the greatest pleasure in both films is in trying to solve the puzzle that doesn’t quite fit.

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