French auteur Olivier Assayas renews his collaboration with gifted American actress Kristen Stewart for an enjoyable, if haphazard, ghost tale.
Is it worth $10? Yes
The famous and bejeweled couldn’t possibly procure their own offerings of gold for gods, talismans to tease out tears, and amulets in abstract arrays. So, as in the latest drama from French writer/director Olivier Assayas (“Clouds of Sils Maria” ), a trustworthy employee makes the trips to Cartier and back. “Personal Shopper” feels like a stark, solitary, semi-precious stone of longing.
Kristen Stewart, who collaborated with Assayas on “Clouds…,” graces the leading role of Maureen—a millennial, neo-grunge, clairvoyant personal assistant—with an easy detachment and subtle invocations of repressed energy. As the complex, contemplative character experiments with the hereafter, she longs to explore and harness her sexual power.
Her brother, also a medium, has died of a heart attack, leaving a sprawling (necessarily spooky) house for Maureen to put on the market. The prospective owners, old friends of the family, understandably want to know the intentions of the ghost(s) that currently reside there. The young woman embarks on a mysterious voyage through a labyrinth of self-discovery while attempting to communicate with her late brother.
As in his prior film, Assayas has created an art film marginally about art. “Clouds…” showcased Stewart as an assistant to a film star who’s in the midst of a comeback. Similarly, Maureen works for a wealthy socialite and arts patron who jet-sets to international fashion weeks. (The personal shopper stays home, though.) Much like painters whose works often resemble each other, Assayas revisits characters, structures and, especially, the questions of personal identity that have interested him in the past.
In “Personal Shopper,” he paints a triptych of self-reflection: the spirit (ghost), the self in the present moment (the shopper), and the idealized self (the star). The director often alludes to the triad visually, perhaps most noticeably in scene we could call the “forbidden hotel room.” As Maureen enters, we see a wall consisting of three panels. Her trepidation and the camera movement suggest someone—or something— might pounce into the room from one of the sections. There’s relief when she steps to the window, covered by a three-piece curtain, and pushes the fabric apart, letting light stream in.Assayas is an exciting cinematic craftsman. His films evoke a restrained energy and a sense that anything could happen at any time. What actually happens, however, sometimes feels flat.
In this movie, for instance, there’s simply too much screen time afforded to Maureen’s cellphone. Yes, Assayas is building suspense through the mysterious texts the character receives, but there are alternatives to filming the phone itself. To be fair, nearly all films that include mobile phones prominently do so unsatisfactorily, and the director here takes a valiant swipe at capitalizing on their inherent remoteness.
“Personal Shopper” also meanders. The story benefits from a certain looseness, but it sometimes loses all tension while it wanders from one plot point to another. One senses an overconfidence in the veteran Assayas’ writing and editing.
A thoroughly modern European affair, the film satisfies in its suspenseful and jarring moments. Stewart performs impressively in a challenging, introspective role, and one can’t help but admire the filmmakers’ swaggering style and fashionista flourishes. A somewhat rushed follow-up to the beloved “Clouds of Sils Maria,” it’s a worthwhile experiment from a writer/director of eminent talents.
Andres Solar reviews new fare with an emphasis on art house and indie for Punch Drunk Movies. He feels that Jean-Marc Vallee (“Dallas Buyer’s Club” , “Wild” ) is highly overrated, and that David Gordon Green (“Prince Avalanche” , “Joe” ) is highly underrated.