Personal Shopper (2016)

  • Time: 105 min
  • Genre: Drama | Mystery | Thriller
  • Director: Olivier Assayas
  • Cast: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Nora von Waldstätten


Revolves around a ghost story that takes place in the fashion underworld of Paris.

One review

  • It takes a certain audacity to have the first ten or so minutes of one’s film comprised of little more than a young woman roaming an empty house and waiting and waiting and waiting. Who is she and what exactly is she waiting for?

    As is writer-director Olivier Assayas’ wont, the clues are parceled out sparingly and sometimes ambiguously. What we know is this: she is Maureen (Kristen Stewart) and she is waiting for a sign. It’s been three months since her twin brother, Lewis, died of a heart condition which she also possesses. As they both had abilities to connect with the spirit world, they had made a pact that, if ever one of them died, they would find a way to make contact from beyond the grave. And so Maureen waits…

    She doesn’t wait for very long as she encounters a presence her first night in the house. And yet, the presence was keeping a distance, she tells her brother’s girlfriend Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz), so she wasn’t quite sure if it was Lewis. Maureen is determined to see things through, which entails remaining in Paris and continuing her job as a personal shopper and assistant for a highly demanding and self-centred celebrity named Kyra (Nora van Waldstätten). So Assayas tracks Maureen as she rides her scooter to various ateliers and shops to assess the designer clothes and accessories to bring over to Kyra’s apartment.

    Maureen’s mission is never far from her mind as she pores over videos of abstract painter Hilma af Klimt and novelist Victor Hugo, both of whom believed in the supernatural. Just when Assayas lulls one into believing that the ghost story has been shunted to the periphery, several incidents occur that are shocks to the system. One is another, more malevolent encounter with the presence, another is a murder, and, more terrifyingly, a third is a series of texts from an unknown sender that begins, “I know you.”

    Assayas mines a great deal of suspense from the more obvious elements of the ghost story. Maureen’s wanderings through the house are almost too protracted, but the dread builds slowly but surely and, though the weaker-hearted may try to keep their gaze focused on Maureen, the eyes can’t help but stray to the dark corners. Similarly, the mysterious texts generate a surprising depth of unease, and even a stabbing “It’s coming from inside the house” feeling as a backlog of texts ramp up the threat level.

    Yet, as its final image and line make clear, Personal Shopper is about Maureen’s unraveling. In this respect, Personal Shopper is Assayas’ take on Roman Polanski’s Repulsion with nods to Belle du Jour and Single White Female. Is Maureen genuinely witnessing a presence or is it a manifestation of her own fear of death and the unknown? Or, to a lesser but more immediate degree, is it distress at losing herself or being wholly unsure of who she is without Lewis? Identity is one strand of Assayas’ narrative and is encapsulated in a startling scene that finds Maureen trying on Kyra’s clothes and masturbating on her bed – is she masking her compulsions by perhaps believing it was the presence that compelled her to do this? Assayas keeps avoids concrete answers, preferring to maintain the obliqueness of the narrative.

    In her second film for Assayas, Stewart follows up her César-winning role in his Clouds of Sils Maria with an equally magnetic performance that includes beautiful and sometimes unexpected displays of emotion, such as the scene where tries in vain to stop the onslaught of tears that overcome her during a train ride.

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