Personal Shopper

Year: 2016
Production Co: CG Cinéma
Director: Olivier Assayas
Writer: Olivier Assayas
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nora von Waldstätten

The previous collaboration between director Oliver Assayas and Kristen Stewart, The Clouds of Sils Maria, was a weird and very European arthouse film that further showcased what Stewart could do as an actress but didn't do much narratively except confound.

Personal Shopper is much the same, even down to the characterisations. As Maureen, Stewart is the flunkey who goes around to high end Feenchand English fashion houses and outlets selecting couture for her boss, actress Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) to wear to premieres, events and parties.

She lives in one of Kyra's houses, a run down mansion with no lights, and interacts slightly with other people in the rest of her boss' professional and personal orbits. But Maureen has another reason for wanting not just to live in Paris but stay in the dark, scary mansion. Even though the mood and timbre are just like that of The Clouds of Sils Maria, the story is much more clear cut. Maureen had a twin brother who died suddenly, and she doesn't want to leave Paris until he's fulfilled the promise they made to each other before his death – that whoever went first will come back and make contact.

It sounds like a creepy Hollywood ghost story, but it's set in the world and with the characters Assayas portrays best – those of a very prestigious European drama. Even when he actually shows what appear to be spirits and their effects on the real world, it feels nothing like as stagey or clear cut as anything an American director would make.

In one sequence a wisp of cloud with a face appears in the dark, a shrill scream emerging from some other dimension. In another, a glass is picked up from a kitchen counter and carried silently across the room by a barely-visible spectre where it's dropped to the ground with a crash as soon as it comes into full view. Shot from the backyard of a French cottage where Maureen sits reading a magazine, it's actually a very well staged and haunting shot, but even though it seems to be providing the denouement to the story, it's nothing like the rest of the movie.

Assayas has gone on record as saying it's a ghost story, but it's a both lot more than that and not even close to being one all at once. It's overstuffed with ideas even while the dialogue and characters drift through the story hardly making an emotional dent, and even though it shows an assured vision, the plot is ultimately as unsatisfying as The Clouds of Sils Maria was.

Of course it's still great to see Stewart do this kind of thing. A truly talented actress, Twilight seems eons behind her.

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