Personal Shopper (2016)
★★★ / ★★★★
“Personal Shopper” is kind of a ghost story in that it plays with the possibility of the paranormal, there are discussions about the soul and the afterlife, and the main character is a medium waiting for a sign from her twin brother who had died of a heart attack. Although certainly not for everyone, especially those in the mood for clear-cut answers, the picture paints a steady hypnotic rhythm in which the experience is akin to peering through a thick fog. There is a figure just beyond a certain distance but it is difficult to discern whether such a figure is the living, just a life-like statue, or something else entirely.
Kristen Stewart is nearly in every scene of this curious film and she commands attention even if, or especially when, her character does not say a word. We get to know Maureen not through words but the manner in which Stewart puts on a certain mask depending on which persons Maureen is interacting with. It is a controlled and calibrated performance and yet the actor is fluid in communicating the subtleties of every action and reaction. For instance, take note of scenes where she is alone in a dark house and attempting to communicate with those that have passed on. A trite situational horror is imbued with fresh energy exactly because Stewart’s approach is reacting in a dramatic film rather than that of a horror picture.
The plot is quite easy to describe but the work is a challenge to categorize. This is because there are several machinations that complement and contradict each other at times. For example, as stated earlier, elements of the paranormal is introduced, but numerous scenes unfold in expensive shops and posh boutiques. Clearly, the material is making a statement about the beautiful but empty world of celebrity and fashion, but what is it saying about ruminating the afterlife? I think it might be suggesting that both are silly because neither focuses on what is important in life, especially what is happening now—that both are distractions from the bigger picture. But another person can easily disagree and make an equally strong case that it all depends on one’s perspective. The film inspires discussion.
Criticism will be focused on long takes where “nothing much happens.” But that is exactly what I enjoyed about it. Although, there is a lack of dramatic peaks, there are payoffs because for a while the material takes its time to build. We form questions in our heads, we wonder whether there are logical answers to everything that is going on, and we reevaluate our suspicions and conclusions once pieces of the puzzle reveal themselves. It engages in the way that typical horror-thrillers do not. It walks the line between cerebral and emotional. For a while I did not know from which lens I should look at it from—I saw it as a challenge rather than a source of frustration.
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, “Personal Shopper” will appeal to those with an open mind, those who welcome unexpected beats in plot and story. Enter this world like a fallen leaf and allow the wind to carry you through most unexpected places. Remnants of classic filmmaking appear here such as ending scenes right in the middle of conversations.