Jacob Richardson | 20/04/2017
An intensely stylish look at a medium’s attempt to reconnect with her recently departed brother, Personal Shopper defies classification but, anchored as it is by an incredible lead performance, radiates ethereal beauty.
Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper explores Maureen Cartwright’s (Kristen Stewart) experience in Paris; a city she refuses to leave until she makes contact with her twin brother who recently died there, from a congenital heart problem. Searching for a sign that the afterlife exists (a promise her medium brother made her, also a medium, before he died), she spends nights in his seemingly haunted house. In the day time, she works as a personal shopper for a celebrity, struggling with her feelings of inadequacy and her desire for the forbidden. A spanner is truly thrown in the works when she starts receiving mysterious text messages, from an unknown number.
It should be said upfront that Personal Shopper is really Kristen Stewart’s movie. She astounds when she is on screen; her somewhat nervous demeanour the perfect cloak for this character that seemingly sways between fear and bravery when confronting the spirit as part of her hobby. She is cool, classy and immensely watchable, bringing a Parisian air of chic believability to the film that it absolutely needs.
There are other characters, but none are particularly memorable. Assayas directs the film with confidence, eagerly skirting the line between horror, thriller and drama and keeping just enough of the spirit world in, to keep us entertained, while leaving out just enough to make it believable. Indeed, he should be given credit for making Personal Shopper so watchable; a remarkable feat given that a significant portion of the film involves shots of text messages being sent and received. It’s a testament to how well the score, cinematography, performance and direction work together that the film never lags during these moments of impersonal communication.
The plot twists and turns, touching on innumerable personal and spiritual topics. It covers everything from the existence of an afterlife to sexual pleasure of the forbidden, all in a laser focused, well shot story that brings a feeling of modernity to a story that is ages old. Encounters with the spirit world are brought to life in intriguing, effective and subtle ways that feel refreshing for a genre so regularly revisited.
While we may have wanted to see more about Maureen’s job (a movie about what exactly it is a personal shopper does would be great!), or about her brother’s death, Assayas keeps Personal Shopper tight and focused on this woman’s journey through grief, and the payoff is a movie that doesn’t feel bloated or egregious.
Personal Shopper is a beautiful piece of independent cinema. Chic, modern and thrilling, it’s twists and turns may not be as violently encompassing as other pieces, but this laser focused thriller is anchored by a tremendous performance by a terrific actress that results in a boundlessly enjoyable piece of original cinema.