Personal Shopper : A Film Review

Personal Shopper
Director. Olivier Assayas, Produced by Charles Gillibert, Written by Olivier Assayas, Starring Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graia, Nora von Waldstatten, Benjamin Biglay, Audrey Bonnet, Pascal Rambert. Cinematography, Yorick Le Saux, Edited by Marion Monnier, Production company, CG Cinéma, Vortex Sutra, Detailfilm, Sirena Film, Arte France Cinéma, Arte Deutschland/WDR, Cert. 15. Duration 1hr 50mins.

The Outline

A young American in Paris works as a personal shopper for a female mega-rich celebrity. Personal Shopper Maureen played by Kristen Stewart seems to have the ability to communicate with spirits, like her recently deceased twin brother. Soon, she starts to receive ambiguous messages via. text from an unknown source.  Her travels take her to and from London and she is stalked by these messages while she is figuring out her brother Lewis’s ‘presence’ while advising his late partner and friends on the forms medium enquiry takes, as all try tying up loose ends concerning the former home the couple lived in.  While it is on her mind she remains there in Paris addressing the spiritual effects on her.

Acting Sharps

Love or hate central character Kristen Stewart either a cool, ‘calm and self assured way … in the portrayal of Maureen who is an assistant operating as the title says in a shadow role … ‘ as someone very competent, smart and young as others see her (male and female acquaintances come up with the similar infuriating answers) that she acts perilously close to appearing to have let off a sneaky fart.  Her facial expressions in other words conveying this repose. Not exactly the way of conveying criticism but there is a public appetite for simplification and many ways of expression co-exist.  I differ though as though I am not entirely taken by her acting while appreciating here and in the previous collaboration – she seemed better in – Clouds of Sils Maria, with director Olivier Assayas.  This is a sensational chilling, at times disturbing, ghostly twin peaks thriller.  That is more than overkill as a description and instead it could be – some fellow viewers say it this way – as a plodding vision on spiritualism explored using 1900 references, musical, novel and filmic as well as a large presence of abstract art.  Being critical of Kristen Stewarts presence and acting impress is valid due to the high profile she has attained.  She has her smarts choosing parts suiting her and this again is one that she excells in my view as she ‘inhabits’ the part and allows its slow release.  Optimum high drama is not her style and a lot here depends on her not reacting to situations as a witless overacting actress quite legitimately could have portayed it. It will be interesting when another more dynamic dramatic challenging part requiring altered states of acting rather than altered states of mind – laid on her courtesy or constrictingly here by Olivier Assayas.

Trope trailing trowels

We are no longer in the vulnerable trope female genre age (I sincerely hope) and as a personality the bi-sexual individuality of Stewart operates on a higher plain.  So much more is – in her projection – about you seeing a woman thinking on her feet. That is how it should be. Film making advances and KS is up with tat unquestionably.  Choices in fashion shops for someone else, to Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten) who she doesn’t empathise with and while things happen in many ways as she tries to contact her late brother Lewis firstly via. a stopover in the house he and his partner, who has since vacated it, lived in.  This is something she delivers on.  The shallow part is in the drama internalised.  It is impossible to convey – otherwise our Director would not formulate filmic distortions and overlay them. The layering on of some actress throwing up water of liquified gung down screen and walloping us with ‘fright bites’ tells you the actress is apparently aware of a ‘presence.’  So that’s the chops of limitation gone. Terrifyingly the film ‘Under the Shadow‘ did it so much better as did Narges Rashidi’s Shideh acting even allowing for the presence of a child.  It is light years ahead of this film.

Lessons in doubt

Maureen being a twin has been consumed by her late brothers interst in ectoplasmic experiences and his intoxication with spiritualism. If some viewers actually extend the idea she is herself a medium, it is not quite that distinct in the fiilm and purposefully some dialogue indicates that. The co-relation of the twins is used as a deep connective configuration advancing and allowing us to give credibility to her need to go into this means to connect.  Also advanced as a secondary way is the story of prospective purchasers who Lara, brilliant delivery (Sigrid Bouaziz) has arranged a provisional sale with – providing it’s not haunted.  Quite how they got to be aware of this possibility is another unlikelihood.  Hey but this is story telling and poltergeists are everywhere.  Victor Hugo gets an approval rating by way of a filmic diversion explored by the search engine world all inhabit.  It’s not just employed as a screenshot on a phone but is itself put up in 4×3 ratio as a cut into the film itself – placing it as a condescending educational aid primarily as it is counterproductive and another piece of confirmation Maureen is not fully up to speed on large figures of medium history.  Odd?

General Major Von Ruff (Lars Indiger) from BBC’s SS-GB turns up as a companion of the Mega-rich Celebrity Maureen and equips it with a side story but the sensationalist use of both characters is for drama content only absenting itself from the plot.  Into the ingredients come supposed markers in the form of Phone text exchanges as Maureen continues to buy things from Paris and London, furnish the clients wardrobe and only briefly interacts personally with.

Work of Hilma-af-Kline. (Other images seen in film)


This film takes us through the territory’s of well documented followers of spiritualism from the abstract artists to the novelists though not going as far back as Shelley, Wolsencroft, Yeats etc. and Hugo is highest in exploration while Steiner and Germanic themes dismissing spiritualism are advanced along with an atmosphere borrowed from Cabaret and musical underpinning which adds up to a concoction mash up rather than a rather good recipe which on other occasions may have expanded the thesis or directors aims, understanding for us to be satiated in this complex ‘other’ world.  Presumably Aleister Crowley was a no go area and too unfashionable.  Swedish pioneer Hilma -aft-Klint is the most clearly ‘startling’ face of examination on the subject while Hugo is very obviously the exponent of the written conquest of the forms and ideas.  Conquistador, never thought I’d use that, but the film has Victorian and lots of diverse angles, unfortunately in a mash up.
Maureen is a supremely assured young person in Paris who clings to the memory of her twin brother Lewis who has recently died.  His widow .. is coming to terms with the loss and is almost separate in grieving.  The effect on her of loss is never explored properly which sits badly. Her character is strongly projected and lifts and contrasts with the central dynamic.  The lack of awareness is ascript problem with presence taken with other choices themselves pedestrian and in danger of seeking out artfulness.  Is it attempting to convey the everyday?  Contemporising the vision of ordinariness/complexity each apparent, in our existence with unexplained spiritual questions a fixed part of life explored variously but where is the hook and ponderable intensity of the question?  It’s virtually lost as will become clear by anyone seeing it through to the end.

Subtraction of anxiety

Because there is an appetite for skilful drama on subjects of family loss and the strangeness of further and further examples of concealment – not in plain sight issues and ideas or science based constructs – we are hopeful of it being satiated.  That is where Cinema a sets itself apart from other ‘media’.  Film has delivered the technical age of impersonal interchange.  Scream. Nightmare on Elm Street.  Under the Shadow subverts this completely and intelligently using a blank TV to put the self into and see things there.  Text requires your imagination – it’s no secret – has to put in absent words became se of the truncation. Cinema has past history unparalleled in taking us into challenging peaks and troughs of life.  Life itself defined here crudely in death.  The only part of our awareness of life is experienced by death. Time shaped life is present in the moment collated through memory which itself is plastic.  For a true picture of the phenomenon unstarstruck this is not the place to look for answers and ‘arthouse’ is a looser bond here in the speel given in other reports as to its veracity or filmic depth visually or storywise attributing as it does too many ‘representative’ tokenist tropes and planks of assumed knowledgeability of the topic to have it drop the ball somwhere over the Seine.

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Other psychics are available – Aleister Crowley                         Victor Marie Hugo also wrote his original thoughts on mediums

Conclusion ###3

I was initially interested in where this film might take the ectopsmic hinterlands of spirituality in the authorship of Olivier Assayas but was quickly disappointed in its seemingly directionless plot building.  Fashion houses only are of passing interest – after Comme Garçon all pails.  The bling of glitterati in hot house shops conveyed the Personal Shopper role without intimating any lack of form or shape to the body of the human placed in the centre being at odds with that occupation.  It is and was a mere occupation apyingbthe bills and any opportunity to convey materialist notions of contemporary value systems were non existent.  So what then?  Maureen clearly was using the job to pay the rent and apart from some passing exploration of the sexual content of the choices she was making for her clients identity which were at times matching her own it too was trivial in its effectiveness.  There is not a lot an actress could do with the clothes except cosset nourish herself with their temporary escape and then move on.  The void was so apparent and uninteresting.  As for the spiritual enlightenment none came to pass. Quite a few reactions were of the ‘presence’ of absence which is stretching the task of using language to fit the void in extremis.  It may have worked with emphasis in different places but it didn’t shape up at all.  As for its tendency to factorilise the brief of the ‘medium’ it was tediously condescending it is attempt at gravitas.  While many will like it because they like the look it is hardly going to be held as a new thought provoking exemplary piece of film making.

Kristen Stewart needs better work and can outlast this temporary indulgent blip.  I certainly hope and expect her to excel somewhere along the line.  I was said in a ‘proper’ review! nameless that  She possesses an uncanny ability to turn her natural charisma into diffidence. You can’t take your eyes off her, even as she ..  That view has a different outcome for me as plain blandness.  The view related also paying film fans. Still in a parallel world – the world of Russian Vogue I believe KS turns up recently as a fashion model and all the clothes are radiant and colourful.  See the web for the blonde new look attire.  Strikingly photographed.  No hint of irony but clothes listed in Russian!

John Graham
16 March 2017

On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast from 17 March through to and including 23 March 2017.  Also on General release at selected Cinemas.

Certain Women : A Film Review 



Certain Women

Directed by Kelly Reichardt. Produced by Neil Kopp, Vincent Savino, Anish Savjani, Written by Kelly Reichardt. Based on Based on stories by Maile Meloy. Cast. Laura Dern, Kristen Stewart, Michelle Williams, James Le Gros, Jared Harris, Lily Gladstone, René Auberjonois. Music by Jeff Grace. Cinematography, Christopher Blauvelt. Edited by Kelly Reichardt. Production companies. Film Science. Stage 6 Films. Filmed in And around Livingston Montana USA.  Cert. 12a. Duration 1hr 47mins.


Orderly nature

Is this a portrait of women on frontiers of life?

We are invited into a slow moving trilogy of women’s stories loosely linked in the vast State of Montana.  Arrival by train either stopping or passing frames the small town together with the freeways and intersections this film borders on.  The narrative sets with the first of the stories introducing Lawyer, Laura Wells played by Laura Stern.  In an unbashful undecorated interior of a hotel or rental we meet her having a lunchtime diversion with Ryan (James Le Gros) before we roll onto her place of work in a town lawyers practice where a client without appointment tries to engage her on his apparently hopeless case.  A story of industrial injury is the wreck of this fifty something year olds life and stoically Laura engages as she has arranged for the annoying irrational but troubled Fuller (Jared Harris) a needed second opinion.  This sets them on an adventure of a dead end kind. The pace of daytime routine, timekeeping is a forerunner to the entirety of the films tableau.  Days are repetitive, boring mostly, stuck in seasonal weather, this time is late autumn going on into winter.  With the next two stories we are tested to enquire if their interlocking as they have tenuous connections.  The frailty is purposeful and as a thin metaphor for the crossing of paths.  Some secrets are held among the excursions of the town we intrude upon. Each story creates a passage of time in the short term and as future anticipated.  The sounds of the train, the cars, natures birds singing, animals in a paddock or stable genuinely create descriptive immersion to a pleasing unaffecting environment.  On one excursion typically random, Ramy Groovy Thunder, the endtitles reveal, is an Indian having taught the Shopping Mall White schoolboy Indians.  It serving as a reminder of farback life. The tow of the film takes us to many places and none confining except through the constructs consciously or unconsciously assembled by the characters we meet.

For anyone expecting action it basically happens when we finish one story and go onto the next.  The Maile Meloy short stories are melodies of brief interludes.  Vignettes of totally different scenarios.  As a stories collection they are known as Certain Women.



The start following Laura as she is alone and excercising her freedom as a free spirit led to Law presumably by its formula of right and wrong in conflict and requiring sorted out.   The extent of her stoic outlook is a famiar middle-aged acceptance of the worlds toil.  In helping fractures mend she is a realist and becomes at times contemplative though this interior life is not really examined or inviting enquiry.  This is a problem in creating divided, seemingly unconnected stories and it is not Women as say, a Robert Altman Short Cuts.  What this film succeeds in is creating a slightly meloncolic and sensitivity with an inquisitive narrative in which you are to form pictures of lives and emotions behind them without creating too many sub-plots.



Gina Lewis (Michelle Williams), wife to Ryan, who we has appeared briefly before.  Gina is walking a forest trail.  A motor track which has sunlight invading in spades of light.  She is kitted for running and stops to scuff her heels and sip a drink.  Her gaze is studious and she absorbs her surroundings slowly.  Everything is done slowly, almost, and she approaches a camp with a bedecked large tent from which a small family argument appears to be in progress.  Ryan and Gina have a teenage daughter Guthrie (Sara Rodier), who while herself enjoying the outdoors has limited patience and it is stretched even further when a promise they made is broken.  They go to a elderly lonesome friend, Albert (Rene Auberjonois), who is prone to mishap and has large acreage of barren land between him and the freeway.  His house is a pitched roofed bungalow with what looks like replica wood shingle and it’s wide windows insulate him from the outside which he occasionally listens to.  His recollection of birds is intact.  He maintains a tidy homely house and a minor tendency to forget as he does when the subject of the stone is aired.  This is a relationship which Gina is careful to handle as she it appears in this scene to be the one who most needs the new house to be of her identity and not a joint one which Ryan is happy to go along with.  This presents questions on the extent of discord in realationships and how solid a construct they need.  The home Albert is happens to be a replacement home and as I hinted it is of a compromised modernity replicating what was.  The sandstone also represents a past era and it got knocked down because its use passed.  It was no more than a building blocking a view.




Jamie (Lily Gladstone) is a ranch hand.  Working on her own she looks outside for experience of the town she is on the periphery of town.  With this she free bases an evening class for Teachers interested in School Law at which she becomes interested in the alternative life of woman called Beth (Kristen Stewart). After the class she introduces Beth to the local diner in a food refill before her 4 hour journey back home. Having struck up a friendship Beth provides a diversion from the ranch routine which fills the introvert Jamie with touching connection, (metaphor) to someone who perhaps has similar needs despite being occupied with life in a town.  The simple chosen life of Jamie is a deep contrast to any other characters in the film.  Hers is a solitary occupation where time is driven by the habits of animals.  Feeding them, turning them out, tending to their physical well being, sheltering them and exercising them if needed.  This is a directing calling to be at one with nature though these animals are captive almost dependants on her and create a nascent family.  Their is little in the way of return for her other than the fact they are not humans and don’t talk back or play with her emotions.  This though is a life of isolation which she sees the voids in and her gentle temperament – her back history as the others is unexplained – takes her not to bars or dances seeking a partner but what appears at first a community gathering but turns out to be a class.

img_8907 img_8910

Of all the pictorial stories I liked this most knowing the satisfaction working with animals gives you and the latency of uncovered patterns of nature as seasons and habits rely on the earths cycle rather than a man made one.  Jamie’s quiet mostly manual work has an honesty also.  She is relied on by these animals to a degree and she brings them along as children.  Beautifully photographed and with repetitive acts we enter this soft routine world.  There is contrast from shots of a stable barn interior darkness with a horse entering through the light of the door and there is the unharnessed light of the outdoors filling the frame as the horses cross white snow covered paddocks fenced with metal grids and moving between the hay bales broken and scattered and the pack leader chases of his fellow horses with mild rebuke and gesture and they settle to feed.  Exterior and interior are so clearly marked here.  The stable barn is seen as a long corridor with tack hanging on pegs and sliding stable doors which are open closed as Jamie moves horses about to clean their stable.  The repetitive act of this housekeeping is watched from a distance at the end of barn exentuating the routine and emphasising the habitat.  The editing of this story is more expressive of the county of Montana than is otherwise seen.  While Gina is intent on making a homestead – her ideas are unclear for example as she is uncertain as to the use of the mountain sandstone she acquires – and putting down a marker is her aim mostly while her relationship and the fragility includes ambivalence towards a teenage daughter whose options and choices perhaps exceed hers.  Jamie is in need of contact and her behaviour while understood is odd and not able to fit the normal things expected in life which is oddly reassuring and plays out with a really affectionate scene where Beth gets to male a connection with the animals, a horse which she otherwise would not experience.


Conclusion ####4

Kelly Reichardt’s film is a set of miniature dramas to savour.  Her script, control of framing and pacing, editing and work with a very effective and wise cast deliver a modern allegory representational of our control of our habitation and our proximity as always to the nature we move east, west, north and south through.  Only here are the NW, SSE movements as we track across other people’s lives with degrees of impact kept for later questioning, while the freeways, trains, mountain tracks, forests provide a view of wider world reminding us of its eternal presence.  In Prodigal Summer, a book set in a similar part of America, I’m currently reading, a sentence reads, Out of the light she could almost see the calm air beginning to gather itself for the afternoon, the oxygen burgeoning between the damp leaves.  The trees were the lungs of the mountain, – not her mountain, nobody’s damn mountain, this mountain belonged to the scarlet tankers, puffballs, luna moths, and coyotes.   Kelly Reichardt’s film is a figurative treatment of one subject – our living world – under the guise of another – our living with the world, with thecrelationships though nots as detailed and integral as the aforementioned novel nevertheless place contemporary life and the variety of choices, without even a birth death, marriage or priest, minister to be seen as a complex picture.  It is not a movie of assurance, but and assured depiction of perpetual motion along which lives move among each other and this being an adaption of short stories weave a wonderful rewarding insight to the human adaption in every era.  This is a very satisfying watch which contradicts its simple form by illuminating several angles in life’s tapestry against a familiar backdrop.  No large life shifting things are present.  No child in a hospital fighting for their life, no violent intrusion, no traffic or domestic accident or unnamed catastrophe.  It is an ensemble delicately woven and splendidly transformed from the page.  Very different from the usual cinematic experience which is a feat in itself.  If any feelings of incompleteness occur at the end it’s because life is.


John Graham

1 March 2017


On at Queens Film Theatre Belfast 3 March to 9 March 2017

Kelly Reichardt


Here's an arrival this week - a colt foal by Kingston Hill mum not credited at Coolmore

Here’s an arrival this week – a colt foal by Kingston Hill mum not credited at Coolmore