In Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper, which premiered in Cannes last year, the director reunites with his Clouds of Sils Maria lead actress, former Twilight star Kristen Stewart – and the outcome is equally as captivating. It’s a stylish, complex, and experimental blend of psychological drama meets supernatural thriller, with Stewart’s sublime, almost effortless lead performance providing the film with its key anchor.
Personal Shopper centres on Maureen Cartwright (Stewart), a young American working in Paris as a personal shopper for a high-profile celebrity client, Kyra. Despite finding herself in a professional rut, Maureen remains in her position – this job, of course, pays the rent. However, shifting aside an occupation in Paris’ fashion scene for a less-than-tolerable employer, our heroine is struggling with something more urgent: an internal conflict of grief. Specifically, grief brought on after the death of her twin brother, Lewis.
Under this scenario, we discover another layer to Maureen – she’s a medium, just like her twin. Maureen can make beyond-the-grave contact, and in a pivotal line speaking of Lewis’ death, says, “We made this oath. Whoever died first would send the other a sign.”
What follows is a strange turn of events, including a lengthy back-and-forth text exchange with a mysterious stranger. The communication from this unknown sender rings eerily accurate to her every move, with the entity on the other line seeming as if they’re right around the corner, following Maureen wherever she goes, even as she travels from Paris to London for business. An inescapable presence reaching out to Maureen – is it Lewis attempting communication from the afterlife? It’s from this point forward where Maureen treads a fine line between, at least from our perception, a fractured reality and what only exists because of her special ability as a medium.
The film effectively delivers all the workings of a chilling ghost story, but also embodies a tale of alienation within itself – where Stewart’s performance is most outstanding. A display of fragility and fear is combined with a distinct, erotic confidence that commands your attention: there are scenes which suggest Maureen’s fixation on the glamorous Parisian lifestyle of her employer, as she slips into her Kyra’s haute-couture multiple times.
The film dances brilliantly between emotions, where boundaries are crossed and a bizarre game of cat-and-mouse takes full form. It’s gripping, even if Maureen’s tale ends in a rather anticlimactic fashion – or, maybe we’re simply supposed to piece Assayas’ puzzle together.
Personal Shopper is a compelling piece of cinema. It’s unconventional and tense, and an overall impressive second collaboration between Assayas and Stewart.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10