PERSONAL SHOPPER - Review - We Are Movie Geeks



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Kristen Stewart as Maureen Cartwright in Olivier Assayas’s PERSONAL SHOPPER. Photo by Carole Bethuel. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release ©

Kristen Stewart as Maureen Cartwright in Olivier Assayas’s PERSONAL SHOPPER. Photo by Carole Bethuel. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release ©

Kristen Stewart plays an American with a psychic sense who works as an assistant to a celebrity, in the French/English language film PERSONAL SHOPPER. The film won Olivier Assayas (IRMA VEP, SUMMER HOURS) the Best Director Award at Cannes, and reunites the French director/writer with Stewart, who gave a striking performance for him in 2014’s CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA in a supporting role.

In PERSONAL SHOPPER, Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, a Paris-based American who works as a personal shopper for a famous jet-set client. But we first meet Maureen as she visits a deserted old French country house, where she is using her skills as a psychic medium to contact a spirit that maybe haunting the house. She is supposed to determine if the house is haunted prior to its sale to a couple, and if the spirit is benign. But on a personal level, Maureen is hoping for contact from her recently-deceased twin brother, also a spiritual medium, who died suddenly of a heart attack stemming from a medical condition the sister shares. A mysterious text to her cell phone, which maybe from her dead brother, takes her down an uncertain path.

The star of the TWILIGHT movies continues her quest for art-house film glory in PERSONAL SHOPPER, having appeared in films for Woody Allen among others. She has had her her best success perhaps with Assayas’ CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, also a moody drama, where her supporting character’s disappearance took a lot of the energy out of the film. Here writer/director Assayas gives her the starring role, looking to recreate that magic.

It turns out the house the couple is interested in buying belonged to Maureen’s dead brother Lewis and his widow Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz). Lara and Maureen seem close but mostly Maureen has a lonely life working for her often absent employer. Maureen communicates occasionally by Skype with her boyfriend Gary (Ty Olwin), who is working on an IT project out of the country. At the Paris apartment of her elusive employer Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten), Maureen meets Ingo (Lars Eidinger), a German businessman who tells her he is having a secret affair with the famous celebrity.

Maureen is not happy with her work but she hangs around Paris because she and her brother made a pact to try to contact each other from beyond if one died. She still has hopes for that, and so stays in Paris rather than joining her boyfriend. While her brother Lewis was convinced of existence of the spirit world, Maureen is much less certain, wavering between wanting to believe and dismissing it as illusion and embracing other explanations. But she keeps returning to her longing to contact her dead brother.

The story is as much about grief as it is a taut psychological thriller. Mixing grief and ghost story, there is plenty of discussion about ghosts, the psychic and the spiritual, if  not religion, and even a mention of theosophy

References to the early 20th and late 19th century spiritualism movement are woven into the story. The woman who is buying it mentions an art exhibit of Hilma Af Klint, an early twentieth century abstract painter who claimed her art works were inspired by the spirit world. Another character brings up Victor Hugo’s interest in spiritualism and his claims of communication with the spirit world. Maureen immerses herself in research on both.

Stewart’s performance is good but perhaps not as singluar as in Sils Maria, where the film seems to fade after her character vanishes. Still, overall PERSONAL SHOPPER is the stronger film, balancing the driving entertainment of a suspense thriller tinged with horror, with a touching story of loss, and also suffused with deeper philosophical and psychological layers. Events are sometimes mysterious and the film’s ambiguous ending leaves a distinct chill in the air, like the passing of a ghost.

Assayas’ use of a protagonist with a weak heart cleverly suggests another French thriller, the 1955 classic DIABOLIQUE, which mixes elements of psychological thriller and horror as does this film. But PERSONAL SHOPPER has another side, about grief and questions about an afterlife. The film’s eerie ending adds to the film’s haunting power.

PERSONAL SHOPPER is a gripping, ghostly psychological thriller that both entertains and provokes thought, a haunting film on both levels.

RATING: 4 out of 5 stars


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