I’m still trying to piece together what exactly it was about Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper that didn’t work so well for me on my first viewing, because on another go I suddenly had found myself loving it to the point I don’t even remember what I thought was wrong about the film in the first place. And knowing already what Olivier Assayas had managed to bring out of Kristen Stewart from Clouds of Sils Maria, it was only fair to expect more greatness coming along from both one of the most fascinating directors working today as well as one of the most interesting actresses of her own generation. To say the least, there was a resonant effect present in Personal Shopper that only kept it lingering in my head since my first viewing, and on rewatch I quickly saw why it begun to stuck with me.
Kristen Stewart stars as Maureen, a personal shopper for a celebrity in Paris named Kyra. Maureen carries an intense fascination with sprits together with her own late brother, who died of a heart attack recently. She has since refused to leave Paris until she has found a means of communicating with his spirit, and she receives a mysterious series of text messages that lead her life in another direction. Assayas has presented us a ghost story as the film’s selling point but quickly it grows into something more tragic, even a commentary pertaining to where our generation is heading, based on what we’ve already grown obsessed with.
Maureen is a woman who is still overwhelmed within the state of grief and is evidently struggling to cope. Because her brother died in Paris, she takes a job she doesn’t enjoy much as a means of paying her rent – then mysterious text messages show up on her phone that she perceives as being that of her late brother. She is a woman who is scared of encountering a fate similar to that of her own brother, and still feels alienated from the world around her. Within this environment, Assayas has created a melodrama, yet never a sappy one at that. Yet this is only one layer that unfolds what results in Personal Shopper being such a poignant piece of work.
As the film quickly makes its shift towards a psychological thriller, it changes abruptly – yet always in a manner that it still feels inviting for any of the most unexpected viewers for it reflects Maureen’s own mental state, for she is unsure what to believe. In how she communicates with people around her as a result of technology, together with what she witnesses up front, it’s the way that Assayas builds the whole film around how she sees the world and what holds her back. The feeling of disconnect as she is still trying to overcome her own demons. Everything in Personal Shopper hits back at oneself like a memory, one that fascinates us but one we also fear greatly. As the two mix together, we are led to a state of reflection towards our own selves and what we have become over time.
But to get the obvious out of the way, I can’t get over how phenomenal Kristen Stewart is in here. In recent years, Kristen Stewart has only begun to show another side to herself that has only indicated something far greater – and the moment she started working with Assayas, he had only brought nothing more than great performances out of her. She blends into her surroundings with ease and even in her quiet moments, what Assayas had brought out from her in here was a terrified performance, yet also a heartbreaking one. Because it’s a role that goes from one world to another as its own ideas are all coming together, leading up to a haunting final sequence.
But as Assayas lingers on a take of Kristen Stewart wandering within her environment, it only becomes clear what’s most wonderful about Personal Shopper. It’s about as much a modern Hitchcockian thriller as it is a melodrama pertaining to loss and its effect on the human soul. And perhaps that’s only a part of why I’ve only come to see Personal Shopper as truly one of the decade’s very best, because it’s a film that’s addressing how one is trying to find their own comfort through what sticks around and haunts one’s own soul. But if anything else can be said for sure, from this and Clouds of Sils Maria, Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart are a team not like any other and I look forward to what they do next.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Les Films du Losange.
Directed by Olivier Assayas
Screenplay by Olivier Assayas
Produced by Charles Gillibert
Starring Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 106 minutes