Personal Shopper review
So how does one begin to sum up a film like Personal Shopper? Is it a film about spiritualism? A heart-breaking essay on grief? A psychological thriller? A satire of consumerism? A cat and mouse murder mystery? A ghost story? A metaphysical horror? Or an abstract work of art? Or perhaps all of the above, for that is most certainly what you get in Olivier Assayas’ daring and unpredictable new creation.
We follow Maureen (Kristen Stewart), a young American woman living and working in Paris as a personal shopper for a wealthy socialite named Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). She spends her days in Parisian (and sometimes London) boutiques buying extraordinarily expensive clothes, shoes, accessories, and jewellery for Kyra. Maureen hates this job and wishes she could leave France, but she is trapped here, waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. For you see, Maureen is a Medium.
Her twin brother Lewis recently died from a heart-attack, and they made an oath that whoever died first would send the other a sign that there is something after. She can’t leave Paris because this is where he died, so her life is on hold whilst she strives to make contact with him.
When she isn’t working, she spends time in the old mansion house where Lewis died. The scenes in the house are incredibly effective. The creaking sound design and natural lighting add to the chilling sense of dread. There is something else in that house with Maureen. But is it Lewis? Assayas’ unconventional approach to these sequences will have icy fingers dancing up your spine.
Whilst I can acknowledge that this isn’t a film that will appeal to everyone, I can confidently say that fans of Hitchcock, Polanski, and De Palma will find a lot to love about Personal Shopper. The masterful ratcheting of tension in the second act as Maureen is stalked by an unknown texter is pure Hitchcock. Thematically on similar turf as Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy, Personal Shopper also has a deliciously erotic and almost fetishistic streak as Maureen defies Kyra and tries on her extraordinary haute couture outfits, and seemingly becomes another person in the process.
A truly enigmatic film that completely defies genre and classification, and one that yes, you could certainly argue suffers from a lack of coherence. It straddles so many styles and themes, but this only adds to the wondrous experience of watching Personal Shopper. It never lets you settle. It never lets you sit back and slip into a familiar rhythm, where as an experienced film-goer, you can go “ah yes” and begin to count and predict the beats. But make no mistake, it is never anything less than beguiling.
And this is no small part down to Kristen Stewart, who is on sensational form, delivering the performance of her career as Maureen. The choices she makes to keep things small, grounded, and internalised are incredibly effective. This role could easily have been translated by another actress into hysteria, but Stewart is too smart for that. Charismatic and oozing screen presence, she carries the film through all its mysteries and strange turns, and further establishes herself as the most interesting actress working today.