Saturday, October 08, 2016

“Personal Shopper”– Movie Review



This week at The 54th New York Film Festival, I attended the U.S. Premiere of the new mystery Personal Shopper , starring Kristen Stewart. 


When a woman tries to contact her recently-deceased brother, she is instead haunted by a ghost – but is she really being pursued by someone else from the afterlife?


Maureen (Stewart) is mourning the sudden loss of her 27 year old twin brother Lewis who died three months ago as a result of the exact same congenital heart defect from which she also suffers.  Journeying to Paris where he lived, she meets with Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz), her sister-in-law and Lewis’ widow, where Maureen agrees to oversee the renovation of the house that Lewis purchased.  The only problem is that once Maureen inspects it, she discovers it’s haunted – but is that ghost Lewis or someone else?  Given the fact that Lewis was a medium who was known to conduct séances, Maureen – who shares her late twin’s belief in the supernatural – believes that it may indeed be him. 

Since the renovation will take a while, Maureen seeks out employment while living in Paris, so she takes a job as a personal shopper for Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), a high-profile woman in the fashion industry who is currently undergoing a bitter divorce while also dating Ingo (Lars Eidinger), a mysterious man who claims to work for a fashion magazine.   As Maureen runs errands for Kyra, she finds herself being stalked on her cell phone by a stranger who seems to know her.  Is this Lewis trying a different means to reach out to her or is someone actually trying to mess with her mind?

While Maureen attempts to solve two mysteries simultaneously – the haunted house and her cell phone stalker – she unexpectedly finds herself in the midst of a criminal investigation:  Kyra is brutally murdered and the police suspect Maureen is somehow involved, despite the fact that she is the one who reported the crime after happening upon it while dropping off purchases at Kyra’s apartment.  But who is truly the culprit here?  Was it the ghost who has been haunting her?  Its presence was revealed to her in Kyra’s apartment.  Was it her stalker?  Or did Maureen herself commit the crime unknowingly?


If it’s possible to describe a movie as a “hot mess”, then that may be how “Personal Shopper” might be characterized.  At times a horror flick and other times a murder mystery, it seems truly schizophrenic, not knowing itself exactly what it is in fact supposed to be when it conflates genres.  Initially, it presents itself as a horror film, given how the apparition scares the daylights out of Maureen.  Then, part way through, it suggests that it has evolved into a murder mystery.  But which is the plot and which is now the subplot? 

Generally, subplots are of secondary or even tertiary importance, subservient to the main plot.  In “Personal Shopper”, however, these concurrent plots feel as though they are of equal weight and it’s unclear which is where the audience’s time and attention must be invested.  The screenplay, director and film itself all appear to be equally confused.  (It might be worth noting at this point that “Personal Shopper” was both written and directed by Olivier Assayas, who worked with Stewart on a better picture, “Clouds Of Sils Maria”, which appeared at The New York Film Festival a couple of years ago). 

Thematically, “Personal Shopper” openly borrows from Hitchcock, but visually may borrow more from Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (at least in some shots).  It’s hard to make sense of much in this story and reasons for the events are never sufficiently provided.  In the end, we are left with a deeply unsatisfying conclusion where the audience can only infer answers though many loose ends are dangling.  Also, its title seems weak and arbitrary, rendering it difficult to market, from a business perspective. 

Following the screening, there was a question and answer session with “Personal Shopper” writer-director Olivier Assayas and its star, Kristen Stewart.  Stewart and Assayas first worked together on “Clouds Of Sils Maria”; she said that she would like to do a third movie with him, noting that “things happen in threes”.  Comparing the two films with Assayas, Stewart observed that “Clouds” was a role she felt comfortable playing “in my sleep” while Maureen left her somewhat perplexed and as such, presented with this challenge, she  was unsure exactly how to approach.  Assayas remarked that he was intrigued by the idea of combining genres, so that was what he tried to do here, making what he called a “collage” in this picture. 

Personal Shopper (2016) on IMDb

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