Personal Shopper **** ½ / *****
Directed by: Olivier Assayas.
Written by: Olivier Assayas.
Starring: Kristen Stewart (Maureen), Lars Eidinger (Ingo), Nora von Waldstätten (Kyra), Anders Danielsen Lie (Erwin), Sigrid Bouaziz (Lara), Ty Olwin (Gary), Audrey Bonnet (Cassandre), Pascal Rambert (Jerome).
Kristen Stewart is one of the great actors currently working – someone who is able to convey so much, while doing so little. Her best performance to date was in Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria – where she plays the personal assistant to a movie star – but in her follow-up collaboration with Assayas – Personal Shopper – she may well have outdone herself. This is a brilliant performance, at the heart of a great film. Assayas himself has said he wouldn’t have made the film with Stewart – and that shows just how smart he is. This is a film that requires the type of screen presence that Stewart has, coupled with that acting ability that allows her to communicate her inner changes, while remain the same, placid version of herself on the outside. I hope these two make many more films together.
Personal Shopper is essentially a ghost story – the opening scene finds Stewart’s Maureen arriving at an isolated house in the French countryside which belonged to her twin brother Lewis, who has just recently died of the heart condition that he shared with Maureen. Like Lewis, Maureen is also a medium – although she isn’t sure she really believes in that, and it isn’t her passion or career right now. She walks around this dark house, looking for Lewis – who always promised that should he die first – he’d send back a message from the other side. This opening sequence is one of the tensest in the film – even getting under my skin, and I’m someone who almost never gets scared at ghost stories (mainly because, I don’t believe in ghosts). But it’s far from the only tense scene.
Most of the movie involves Maureen working for Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten) – who is either a movie star or a supermodel, or some sort of other celebrity. She is, as the title implies, her personal shopper – whose job is to essentially drive around Paris on her little scooter, picking up expensive clothes and jewelry for Kyra to wear to various functions – and then drop them back off the next day (unless Kyra decides she wants to keep them – which is a giant pain in Maureen’s ass). This is somewhat of a ghost story as well – Maureen barely sees Kyra, who is always jetting off to Milan or London, or somewhere else – the pair passing like ships in the night, communicating via notes left for each other in Kyra’s apartment. Even when they do come face-to-face, Kyra barely acknowledges Maureen’s presence – she is someone Maureen doesn’t want to see or hear from. It’s while working for Kyra than Maureen starts getting strange text messages – from an unknown number. Is it Lewis or someone just fucking with her? Or perhaps is it a ghost, but not Lewis? Or is it all in Maureen head?
Because this is an Assayas film, you’ll get answers to some questions, and not others – or at least not in the way you expect them. He has never liked providing all the answers to the questions his film raises, and it’s no different in Personal Shopper, which in some ways seems to answer everything, and looked at another, answers nothing at all. The constant in the film is Stewart – who is in pretty much every scene, and changes throughout the film, even as she continues to go about her job. Assayas’ filmmaking in impeccable (well, almost – I honestly don’t think he needs to visualize the ghostly presence at all, but maybe that’s just me). He is able to make those three dots on your iPhone – indicating someone is texting you – absolutely terrifying. He builds tension masterfully, and allows Stewart to hold the screen while barely uttering a word for minutes at a time – and the whole thing is mesmerizing.
At least for me – I already know there will be those (perhaps many) who don’t think much of Personal Shopper – who want it to be more overt, or answer more questions, or move at a quicker pace. Those people aren’t wrong – necessarily – but those people also have a lot of other movies, many of them very good, that they can go watch instead of Personal Shopper. This may well be the best horror film of the year – and I’m not even sure it is a horror film.