Personal Shopper is an emotional story about loss, luxury labels, comfy pullovers, ghosts, scooters, ectoplasm, and contacting the other side. Something for everyone, en fait.
Personal shopper is the second collaboration between the French auteur director Olivier Assayas and his Southlands ingénue, Kristen Stewart, who scooped the first ever Cesar to go to an American actress for her subtle portrayal of dogsbody to a star, Valentine in their first movie, Clouds of Sils Maria.
Again Stewart plays an assistant, but as strong and independent as Valentine was in her story, Maureen wanders through as a pale a ghost of herself. A young woman carrying grief and guilt on her delicate shoulders, she is driven to fill a void, the loss of her twin brother.
When Maureen isn’t dicing with the cobbles stones of Paris on her scooter, running errands from one designer store to the next, she tries to contact her dead brother in the afterlife – the twins are/were both mediums.
Assayas sets the scene by giving us, the audience, first a glimpse of Maureen camping out in an old abandoned villa trying to reach brother Lewis.
Every creak in the floorboard, every moving shadow, all the hidden dark corners give us a frisson of the anticipation of the scare, the unsolved mystery, an explanation of loss, a glimpse into the past.
The story unfolds slowly, bit by bit and Kristen Stewart commands every scene with a layered performance of great range. She is the story and we are the voyeurs. Her ability to keep us captivated with a very vulnerable, emotionally raw performance is perfection. Her loneliness is haunting…perhaps literally.
In one of the scenes, Maureen tries to hide her choking crying by burying her face into the collar of her jacket. It provoked such a strong emotional response in me, I felt like leaping into the movie to hug her better.
Assayas used text messaging sequences as a substitute for dialog. We get to watch Stewart’s reactions to the messages, another opportunity to show off her skills.
As Stewart explores a forbidden world of couture porn, Maureen accompanies her on a path of self-discovery, of shedding the past, and letting go.
I loved the movie, it provoked thought and left me with questions. Perhaps I will get answers if we get a third collaboration between the great filmmakers.
I went to the independence film screening of Personal Shopper at the LACMA, here is the full Q&A from Olivier Assayas & Kristen Stewart.