A personal shopper in Paris refuses to leave the city until she makes contact with her twin brother who previously died there. Her life becomes more complicated when a mysterious person contacts her via text message.
I truly had no idea what to expect when checking out Personal Shopper.
A straight up thriller? A character piece?
Well, it has those things, but it’s also a supernatural drama which flirts with a little bit of art-house cinema and which ultimately ends up as a showcase for the acting work of Kristen Stewart.
Who’d a thunk it?
Maureen resides in Paris – making a living as a personal shopper/assistant (thus the title) for a high profile and exacting (read: bitchy) model named Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten). While running errands keeps her busy during the day, she also spends time (in fact, she’s found herself unable to leave Paris) searching for a sign that her departed twin brother is at peace (he died in the city). Maureen and her brother share two common traits – they’re both spiritual mediums and they both share a malformation in their hearts – the result of which is what ultimately killed her brother. The grief Maureen is working through, and the constant waiting for a response from her deceased brother Lewis – have put her into a downward spiral of depression, self-doubt and self-discovery.
I’ve never seen any of the Twilight films, and sadly, that glittery vampire saga (or so I’ve been told) is what I most associate Kristen Stewart with.
But her performance in Personal Shopper is worthy of a closer inspection, and therefore a deeper appreciation for her work as an actor. Her method of dialogue delivery is really special here. She’s got a uniquely androgynous quality as Maureen (in appearance and in attitude) – and I think it’s interesting to see the character dress so plainly – almost as a male – but then take on a very female look when trying on heels and couture dresses. It all feeds into the aforementioned self-discovery – and Stewart makes us believe that in this search for her sibling’s answer – Maureen doesn’t know who she is, who she wants to be or where she needs to be. Maureen is quite by the numbers, but the sadness and delicate sensibilities are just below the surface of this harder exterior. And Stewart manages to hit all of these many emotional levels. It’s a very sympathetic character and her performance is the heart and driving force of the film.
As always, there’s something in this film which resulted in me calling out a movie or television quote to properly sum up my thoughts. In this case, another line from The Simpsons when Homer sees the commercial for “Mr. Sparkle”, “That didn’t explain anything at all!”
Indeed, Personal Shopper leaves plenty of questions unanswered, or at the very least – vastly open to interpretation. It’s always a toss-up on whether or not I feel a film has given me enough answers. The film’s final moments seem to offer a firm answer. And then that answer is followed by another question, perhaps negating the first response. Sigh. I think in this case, I wanted a clearer completion for the film, and thus for the character. And again – I think that need as a viewer – for Maureen to have ultimate closure – is a true testament to the character and Stewart’s portrayal.
Shot in Paris, London and in Muscat, Oman – the film has a quality of pedigree – these places are shot as real cities and never feel romanticized. And I think that was very purposeful. We’re seeing these places (certainly Paris) as sort of a grief-trap from which Maureen cannot escape. Sure, architecturally Paris is beautiful, but we see the city as just another 9 to 5 grind. Maureen’s dealing with baggage and mystery and some supernatural weirdness – so the fact that Paris is considered the “City of Light” and/or “City of Love” – is of no consequence here. And I loved the city’s portrayal – perfectly matching the uncertainty and depression of Maureen. There’s truly nothing magical or romantic in Maureen’s world. Why even the glamour of all of the clothing and accessories (she gets priceless jewelry from Cartier for her boss) she is expected to retrieve, can’t overcome the darkness surrounding Maureen wherever she goes.
In all of that – the cinematography is to be praised for capturing a well-known city of romance and making this place uneven and unsure and potentially, dangerous.
As Maureen is an “available at all hours” assistant to Kyra, she’s naturally on her smart-phone a great deal. This becomes important to the plot, as an “unknown” person begins to contact her via text. That’s all well and good, but there’s a scene using this device – later in the film – which was truly inspired and absolutely frightening. It didn’t quite pay off as I would have liked, but it’s a most memorable moment nonetheless.
While cell phones and such tricks were not available during his heyday – this somehow reminded me of something Brian DePalma might have tried – had cellular phones been prevalent in the ‘70s and ‘80s. There’s something here which is weirdly reminiscent of Dressed to Kill (I can’t quite put my finger on it, but that’s the sense I got).
Overall, the film had that DePalma feel about it (never going as far as something like a split-screen) – much like Never Here – another character-driven thriller reviewed earlier this year (check out that full write-up here). It’s very intriguing and very effective.
Writer/director Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria) won Best Director for Personal Shopper, when it played at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival.
When all is said and done, Personal Shopper is a vehicle for Kristen Stewart’s (seemingly underestimated) acting talents. The film has a great atmosphere of unease and mounting questions – many of which will go unanswered or uncomfirmed. Whether or not such open-ended queries are your jam – will determine how much you enjoy the film. I wanted a bit more clarity – but then again – I didn’t.
Apparently, I’m never satisfied, except when I am. Just see the film.
Personal Shopper is now available on VOD as well as DVD/Bluray.