Personal Shopper: NZIFF Review
Olivier Assayas reteams with Kristen Stewart after last year's NZIFF outing The Clouds of Sils Maria, a surprising film that won the erstwhile Twilight star a prestigious acting award.
This time, Stewart plays Maureen, a twin whose other half Lewis has died from a heart condition which she shares. However, Maureen is a medium too, who spends her night trying to contact her dead brother, believing his spirit still to be in the house.
By day, Maureen is a personal shopper for a model, who's never home and who exchanges notes with her charge. But Maureen's unhappy with her lot, decrying that spends her days "doing bullshit".
Her life changes though when she encounters a spirit in the house - and then starts to get anonymous texts...
Mixing a concoction of atmospheric ghost story (via the likes of The Others and The Orphanage) with a psychological sideline in stalking proves to be an intriguing proposition for Personal Shopper. It's a film that very much benefits from Stewart's performance and subtleties.
As the medium negotiating the spiritual world, she's very much a Ghostbuster, desperate to connect to ensure closure as she begins to give way at the edges. Spending nights alone and days equally alone in her haute couture job, her dissatisfied detachment from the world around her is well played by Stewart, who uses fraying mentality and fragility to beneficial effect. She conveys the degradation of her mental condition with the slightest of tics, twitching fingers et al.
Sequences in the home at the start of the film are well orchestrated by Assayas who creates a soundscape and atmosphere that's easy to buy into - even if occasionally frustratingly, he decides to cut a scene short by fading to black unexpectedly. But the unease and discord that's unleashed on Maureen early on is nothing compared to how suspenseful a text conversation becomes in Assayas' hands.
With the deftness of simply holding the camera on the phone as messages fly back and forth with various pauses, the whole thing becomes a bizarre masterclass in the art of suspense as this portrait of grief and yearning for more (both in this life and the next) unfolds.
Stewart's unease is palpable within the looping rhythms of tedium within her day and while some may feel in comparison to the broader emotional strokes that Assayas achieved in Clouds of Sils Maria this is lacking. But that's to dismiss Stewart's presence throughout and to do a disservice to Assayas' tale of disconnection.
It's essentially a spooker of a film, a film that builds to crescendo within its oeuvre and a film that defies convention or easy definition.