Directed by Olivier Assayas. Starring Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Nora von Waldstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin. (2017, R, 105 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 24, 2017
Much like Maureen (Stewart), the personal shopper of the title, this movie requires us to bring intuition to bear in making sense of its proceedings. Many aspects of writer/director Assayas’ story are open-ended, and demand that the viewer suss out their relevance and meanings. Other aspects, primarily the ghost story that dwells at the film’s center, ask us to channel the movie’s surreality to understand the importance of this unearthly presence in Maureen’s life. In terms of narrative events, Personal Shopper is rather plain, yet the film sucks you into its orbit with its sensual pleasures that defy satisfaction. You can’t stop watching this film, even if you can’t always express in words what you’re seeing. Intuition fills in the gaps.
Kristen Stewart, who is present in nearly every scene, is the major force that keeps our eyes peeled to the screen. She is one of greatest talents working in cinema today, and she agilely teeters between showing us Maureen’s cool, efficient, and detached side as well as the character’s lost and unconfident emotional side. There is great texture to her performance in this role which reunites her with Assayas, her director in 2014’s Clouds of Sils Maria, for which she won a host of acting awards. Even though Maureen is in broad outlines similar to the personal assistant she played in Clouds, the supernatural element makes Shopper an entirely different thing.
In her jeans and T-shirts, Maureen scoots around Paris on her motorbike, fetching designer fashions and Cartier jewelry for her celebrity employer (von Waldstätten). Her desultory attitude toward the job is explained by her need to remain in Paris: making contact with her dead twin brother Louis. Both siblings regarded themselves as mediums, and three months after her brother’s death, Maureen still waits for Louis to make his promised contact from the beyond. She visits his former home, which is believed to house some ghosts. She performs her job, squeezes in time for her own artwork, has an extended text-message exchange with an unknown correspondent, tries on her employer’s clothing in secret, and becomes a suspect in a murder investigation. Spooky CGI ghosts appear on occasion, and seem to belong to Assayas’ established custom of exploring the ineffable onscreen. Whether Maureen’s passage is one toward madness or clarity is unknown to us as we follow her on her path. In Personal Shopper, it’s only the journey that matters.