Personal Shopper (2016)
written and directed by Olivier Assayas
It’s difficult to put into words what Personal Shopper is about. On the surface, it is a supernatural horror film about Maureen (Kristen Stewart), a young American woman living in Paris who’s a self-described medium. Sensitive to the world beyond, she can make contact with spirits, even if she isn’t particularly sure what to make of the afterlife. As the film opens, we follow Maureen as she tries to communicate with her recently deceased twin brother Lewis, dead from a heart condition she also has. Staying up all night, she walks through the old house Lewis shared with his girlfriend Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz), hoping for a sign that he’s at peace.
Maureen is lost without her other half. She wastes her days shopping for famous supermodel Kyra (Nora Waldstätten). Buying expensive clothes and ridiculous jewelry is not a job she particularly likes, yet on some level, she finds herself attracted to the fashion and glamour of a lifestyle she can’t have. As she secretly tries on dresses and shoes, she feels like someone else. It’s a welcome respite from the despair she feels. And one night, she finally makes contact… but not with Lewis. There’s an angry spirit that lives in the house, making noises, opening faucets, and vomiting ectoplasm. What does this entity want?
The ghost’s motivations are never clear, and neither are the movie’s. As Maureen starts to get strange texts on her phone, writer/director Olivier Assayas plays with our expectations. Is it the apparition from the house? Is it Lewis? Or is it something – or someone – else entirely? The texting sequence is indeed one of the best moments of Personal Shopper, highlighting Maureen’s loneliness and her desperate need for connection. Kristen Stewart, not the most expressive of actresses, digs deep with a performance that finally allows us to see a reason behind her trademark sullenness.
And then the story becomes something else entirely. There’s a murder, Maureen is a suspect, and some really weird stuff happens that may or may not have something to do with the supernatural world we’ve been introduced to during the first half. I’ve seen the movie twice already, and in all honesty, I have no idea what Assayas is going for in the last half hour in which Maureen faces the killer (or does she?) and then travels to Oman, where she finally speaks to Lewis (or does she?). I love ambiguous endings, but they need to have some sort of inner logic. Personal Shopper doesn’t seem to know – or care to tell you – what it is… and as such, it feels somewhat empty, much like its main character. There’s a deeper movie here about brothers and sisters, solitude, and meaning. Good luck finding it.
Carlos I. Cuevas