Personal Shopper

Personal Shopper ★★★★

Film #18 of the Sydney Film Festival

Olivier Assayas has proved himself as a character’s actor, an element in his filmmaking that I have felt since his 2004 film, Clean, which draws out the most out of Maggie Cheung’s capability as an actor and truly allowed me to believe in the character that she has donned. Personal Shopper continues a hopeful trend for the future, in which he collaborates with Kristen Stewart, one that started in his previous film, Clouds of Sils Maria, in which she took on a supporting role, but her presence in that film was pitched perfectly and engaging.

Personal Shopper may not be the challenging role that would transform Stewart and disprove those antagonistic towards her skill as an actress. I, personally, am infatuated with her tendencies as an actress, and in this film, we see such a familiar trend continue, with Assayas poking just enough to find the actress in seemingly new atmospheres and circumstance. Stewart’s character here may lack the nuance that would make her such a deeply engaging figure, but enough effort and surprisingly, charm was demonstrated to keep my attention within its grasp, to still care enough for the film’s slightly absurd narrative trajectory.

If the film’s plot could be put in a nutshell, it would be that Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is still in grief from the recent loss of her twin brother, of which both are regarded as Mediums, capable of tapping onto the spiritual world, and since his death, she searches for a promised sign that would hopefully provide answers to whether an afterlife exists and whether his death has led him to a state of peace rather than suffering. Along with this, we are given insight to the profession that ties her to Paris, employed as a personal shopper for a high profile celebrity, hopping from store to store, at times city to city, in order to attend to her particular fashion demands.

Assayas has provided a facade of internal conflict for the character, that would hopefully facilitate a sense of development for the character, and certainly we earn a greater understanding of this individual and the issues the troubles her, but unfortunately it does not tie itself effectively to its resolution, which seems to touch greater on the stylistic and thematic aspects of the film. Nevertheless, this was all compensated by the performance that Stewart delivers, and pairing it with Assayas’ natural delivery of exposition, allowed me to be challenged in searching and analysing this character.

It is understandable that many would dismiss the film, notably in its dual tone of dormant drama, with tense-inducing supernaturalism that may be experienced as jarring, especially since Assayas commits to the latter when the story pokes on it, and with it, we see this internal anguish express itself in a literal fashion, requiring more of an expressive performance from Stewart, which I felt was competent, but others however were not so forgiving, at least from my screening. It was a style that recalls the showy, and not to mention efficient, of David Fincher, who crafts tension with great ease but undoubtedly calls upon itself with a generous slice of ego.

Personal Shopper is a film that seems to show Assayas tapping onto more mainstream tendencies, and I certainly felt that it was an efficient transitional film, in the assumption that he would show a greater shift in the future, and undoubtedly found a muse to collaborate, one that fits seamlessly with his particular brand of filmmaking.

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