Best described as “divisive” at its Cannes premiere, Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart’s brave and uncategorisable second collaboration Personal Shopper swings fearlessly for the fences and only narrowly misses.
As Maureen, Stewart is edgy, nervy, and absolutely magnetic throughout – constantly on the verge of breaking down, Maureen’s myriad feelings of grief, hope and pure downtrodden frustration are perfectly pitched. Forget the blank-eyed girl from those vampire films; in Stewart we are seeing the evolution of an extraordinary talent who improves with every appearance.
Stewart carries the thematic weight of the film on her shoulders – she is in practically every woozy frame, and often alone. This loneliness haunts Maureen throughout, and not just in the form of her lost brother Lewis. Her boss, who commands her every waking moment, is a barely-there presence in physical terms, and Maureen’s prickly inverted character keeps anyone from connecting with her.
Personal Shopper‘s complete strangeness, and its refusal to adhere to any particular narrative or genre structure makes it a gripping watch; it’s a rare treat to be so utterly absorbed in a story this unpredictable. It’s anybody’s guess as to what the destination will be, as seemingly disparate genres and thematic elements crash together with surprising congruity.
Where Personal Shopper fails is in its heavy-handed and often daft literalisation of Lewis’ spiritual presence. Assayas’s forays into less interesting supernatural territory would have been more fitting to the uncertainty of his characters, mood and story, if left as metaphor.
Flawed as it is, a film as strange and ambitious as Personal Shopper (it takes guts to include a 20-minute ghost texting sequence) absolutely deserves to be seen. It’s sometimes ridiculous, and will bore many with its long wordless stretches, but the moments of sublimity are well worth your time.
CAST: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Anders Danielsen Lie, Nora von Waldstätten
DIRECTOR: Olivier Assayas
WRITER: Olivier Assayas
SYNOPSIS: Medium Maureen (Stewart) attempts to make contact with her recently deceased brother in the underworld of Parisian fashion.