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.

         img_9371-1 img_9387.   IMG_9390

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.