Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper may have been the first picture to receive a round of “boos” when it played to critics in Cannes this year, but it’s a movie that deserves to be applauded. It’s a film that sometimes scary, sometimes sexy, sometimes specious, and always surprising.
To try and define it by genre would be futile: there are Del Toro tinged apparitions of terror at play here, resting next to elements of Hitchcockian suspense, and even hints of Robert Bresson within the performance-driven drama. Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is the personal shopper for internationally renowned supermodel Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). It’s a job she hates, but one that allows her to remain in Paris with a roof over head, and gives her time to concentrate all of her energy on moonlighting as a medium in search of her brother Lewis’ spirit; he having recently died of a congenital heart condition and promised to transmit a message from the afterlife, should it exist.
This is the first time in Assayas’ career that has seen him tackle such psychologically potent genre material, and there are certainly instances here when even his own direction appears unconvinced about what film Personal Shopper is meant to be – particularly in the third act, as the big reveals begin to unspool. Yet his handling of the horror is effectively confident.
The opening to the film sets the mood magnificently: Yorick Le Saux’s lens meticulously stalking Maureen – as it does for the entire film – around an empty estate at the dead of night. It’s an audaciously creepy and unnerving sequence; the swift movements of the camera compelling us to crane our necks as if to see past the screen towards the shadows and sounds we hear out of shot; the music sneaking up on us with predatory intent.
Dealing equally with themes of obsession, desire, longing, and loss, Personal Shopper is a film possessed with a dark and devilish appearance. Assayas delights in playing with the audience, innovatively using technology to build tension throughout the second half, while also pushing his audience’s comfort limits in scenes that see Maureen submit to breaking the one cardinal rule of her employment, and trying on items from her boss’s wardrobe – an act of fear-fuelled excitement, which climaxes in a moment of sensual self-pleasure.
As with Assayas’ last film, Clouds Of Sils Maria, many will undoubtedly consider themselves conned by the gnawing ambiguities of the final few minutes. But here, as with the whole film, Kristen Stewart sells every minute of it. Hers is a performance that’s layered with self-assured intelligence and emotional restraint, which allows for maximum impact as Maureen’s situation grows evermore traumatic. From Twilight to the twilight zone, she truly is a silver screen triumph!
Director: Olivier Assayas
Writer: Olivier Assayas
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Anders Danielsen Lie, Lars Eidinger