ON IN CINEMAS
Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a young woman living in Paris who works as a “personal shopper”, buying expensive fashion items for a perpetually busy celebrity named Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten). She also studies spiritualism via YouTube videos on her smartphone to aid in her attempt to contact her deceased brother Lewis in his now-derelict house. He perished prematurely from a heart condition that she is also afflicted with, though the doctor assures her that she is likely to survive provided she avoids overly stressful situations. Before his death they made a pact with each other that the first one to succumb to the affliction will give the other a sign from beyond the grave.
She enters Lewis’s old house and repeatedly begs him to give her a sign, which he does eventually in a grand manner. However, things don’t finish there; when Maureen travels via Eurostar to London to pick up some exclusive items for Kyra she keeps receiving a series of texts from someone who won’t make their identity clear. Are these texts further attempts by Lewis to make contact with her, or are they from someone else? What is this mysterious person’s intentions in contacting her?
This rather unusual mixture of low-key drama, supernatural horror and thriller is very much a showcase for actress Kristen Stewart, who has been making a lot of headway of late to claw back her credibility after the Twilight series. She’s the main focus onscreen more or less throughout as we follow her on her various day-and-night ventures through the streets of Paris, the creepy old house where Lewis used to live, Kyra’s plush apartment, the Eurostar train to London and more. Her performance is excellent, and more about her complex and believable reactions to both her exhausting lifestyle and the supernatural circumstances she finds herself involved in, than it is about grandstanding Oscar-courting speeches. While it’s clear her character’s not a weak-willed woman we do see one particular moment, as she attempts to fathom these unexpected texts (possibly from Lewis), where she portrays a person coming perilously close to falling apart with unnerving realism.
Unfortunately the film’s story never quite comes together as a whole. Without wanting to spoil things, the main problem is that there are too many elements and peripheral characters here, and a lot of them never quite tie up or are properly explained. It’s a shame because some sequences are quite effectively directed by Olivier Assayas, and convey a genuinely fraught feeling. The scenes in the derelict house, shot in an extremely muted (seemingly natural) light with no noticeable electric illumination and some great prowling camerawork are nerve-jangling stuff, although the introduction some slightly iffy CGI mars things. The section where Maureen receives repeated texts on the Eurostar is also well-sustained. There’s also a particularly effective shock involving a loud bang and some yellow light emitting from behind a half-open door placed out of focus in the background. The cinematography by Yorick Le Saux is also superb throughout.
On the whole, Personal Shopper is one of those “not quite” movies that seems to work better in parts than as a whole. However it’s still worth watching - largely for Kristen Stewart.
Runtime: 105 mins
Dir: Olivier Assayas
Script: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Nora von Waldstatten