There are films that you leave in the cinema. The credits roll, you join the throngs of people heading for the exit, and you leave the movie behind. Then there are those movies that follow you out of the theatre, into the car park and into the backseat of your car. They stay with you for hours, days, even weeks, playing over and over in your mind. That is “Personal Shopper”.
But, I’m probably getting ahead of myself. While Olivier Assayas’ ghost story ends in a very intriguing place, so too does it open strongly. We meet Kristen Stewart’s lead character Maureen wandering the vacant halls and vast, empty rooms of a derelict, but likely once grand, house. While it takes some time before we find out exactly what’s going on, Maureen is trying to make contact with her late twin brother Lewis, who died three months earlier. And by ‘make contact’, I mean make spiritual contact. You see, Lewis and Maureen (who are/were both spiritual mediums) made a deal that whoever died first would send the other a sign.
So here we are in an spooky old mansion, at night, with Maureen trying to wake the spirits (as creepy as that sounds – and believe me, it is – the whole movie isn’t that bad!) The sequence is dimly lit and well shot, the sound (or, at times, lack thereof) is eerie and foreboding, and Stewart captivates. In many ways, these opening minutes give us a taste for exactly what to expect from here on in – a spooky ghost tale grounded by a stunning Stewart who, despite acting the vast majority of the film by herself, absolutely captivates.
I want to pull myself up on one point there because, while indeed “Personal Shopper” is a ghost story, it’s also about more than that. At its core, the film is a really interesting exploration of grief and the grieving process. Maureen, who currently resides in Paris because that’s where her brother died, is in many ways consumed by her grief, unable to see beyond it, obsessed with this notion of communicating with Lewis. She pays her rent by working as the personal shopper for a high-profile, fashion-savvy celebrity, zipping around Paris from high-end boutique to expensive jewellery shop on her motorbike. And while it doesn’t sound too shabby to me, Maureen is bored by her job.
However boredom becomes the least of Maureen’s problems when she starts receiving mysterious texts and an unexpected event at work throws her whole life off balance. Stewart, who acts opposite no one but her phone for half the movie, is riveting in the role. And she needs to be, she really doesn’t have a ‘co-star’ to speak of. She anchors the film, and the genius of the performance is in the subtleties – a well timed cough, a stutter, a hand tremor.
As the movie draws to a close, it’s hard to tell where it might end. Assayas leaves us feeling as though we have every piece of the puzzle needed to make sense of the film, and yet we just can’t quite put it together. “Personal Shopper” – Assayas and Stewart’s second collaboration after 2014’s “Clouds of Sils Maria” – is equally haunting and beautiful, thought-provoking and conversation-evoking. Definitely worth a watch, I’d even go so far as to call it a must see.