Film: Personal Shopper
Director: Olivier Assayas
Kirsten Stewart as Maureen Cartwright
Sigrid Bouaziz as Lara
Nora von Waldstätten as Kyra
Having worked with the likes of Julianne Moore, Juliette Binoche, and Steve Carell, nowadays it’s hard to imagine that the mysterious and aloof Kirsten Stewart once made her debut to fame with the Twilight franchise. Of course, that’s all in the past, but in Olivier Assayas’ newest film, Personal Shopper, Stewart tips her hat to her supernatural past.
I had the pleasure to see the film’s opening night at IFC Center, which hosted a Q&A afterwards with the director, Olivier Assayas. Lining up with a bunch of movie enthusiasts and strangers in frigid weather is definitely not how most people imagine spending their Friday night, but I found the experience enjoyable and charming. The cozy and intimate theater set the stage for the ghostly dramatic thriller.
Assayas begins to fabricate his drama by placing the audience in the outskirts of Paris. A beautiful but slightly run down mansion is in the background as we see a young woman hugging her friend goodbye. Night falls as the woman sits in the dark, pierced by moonlight, and waits. Thus in such mysterious circumstances, we are introduced to Maureen Cartwright. Maureen (played by Kirsten Stewart) is a personal shopper by profession, but also considers herself a medium. She is waiting for a sign from her recently deceased brother, Louis, who strongly believed in the spiritual world. Maureen visits the mansion formerly owned by her brother to give him a last chance to communicate with her, but also to reassure her friend and his widow, Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz) that the house is cleansed spiritually. Typical of all good thrillers, however, Maureen slowly finds herself infringing on the spiritual world and digging deeper into the darkness of the fashion underworld.
Kirsten Stewart does a remarkable job of balancing the cold exterior of Maureen and her inner uncertainties. Stewart conveys the very image of a woman who seems to be only passing through life. She moves through the city of Paris much like a spirit herself: always on the move and lurking in the shadows. In this sense, Kirsten Stewart seems to instill a sense of otherworldliness and deeper meaning within the film. However, Stewart does lean heavily on the cool and edgy persona that seems to distract from the ulterior motive of the film. The emotionless glares and muttered words at times seem a bit cliché. Stewart does manage to successfully lead the audience deeper and deeper into the strangeness of the situation with only a hint of fabrication. The rest of the cast also supports the film well, as Maureen’s differences are highlighted within each unique encounter. Sigrid Bouaziz plays around with the character of Lara, who at first seems to be a caring woman, but then complicates the emotional storyline in an unexpected manner. The unison of the ensemble works well together, as they create a melancholy but intriguing film.
Many of the film's unique stylistic as well as technical choices were strongly influenced by Olivier Assayas. He revealed during the Q&A session that he simply fell in love with Kirsten’s method of acting after working with her on “The Clouds of Sils Maria” and wrote the screenplay with her in mind. His initial premise for the film was his curiosity surrounding the séances of the early 20th century. He modeled the spirit that appears in the film after photographs taken by spiritualists of the era. His fascinating curiosity with spiritualism was certainly evident through out the film and added another layer to the piece. Assayas also had a unique way of working with information. There are several portions of the film that are portrayed in an ambiguous manner, which he insists he does purposefully. Assayas stated that he wanted for the audience to fabricate their own stories and found it much more compelling to leave certain elements of the story unknown. His work with Kirsten as well as his innate curiosity won him the “Best Director” award from the “Official Competition” Jury at the 69th edition of the Cannes International Film Festival.
I watched the film with great enjoyment and intrigue, but at times it felt either a bit too melodramatic or lagging in plot. The topic of the film is quite engrossing and it was interesting to see how the theme of uncertainty and fear played through out the movie. I was captivated by it, and walked out of the theater with a certain sense of enlightenment. The film certainly expresses a unique voice and an interesting storyline; however, it does not carry within itself an intense emotional force. The film is an absolute delight to watch, and is perfect to see on a cold Friday evening.