Directed by Olivier Assayas
Starring Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin and Hammou Graïa
In UK Cinemas March 17th, 2017
by Joanna Orland
Personal Shopper was notoriously booed at its 2016 Cannes Film Festival premiere, yet went on to garner accolades from many well-respected critics and even won a Palme d’Or for Best Director at the same festival where it was jeered. Needless to say, this is a very divisive film.
Unconventionally structured, Personal Shopper tells the story of Maureen, a paid personal shopper for a world class model. Maureen is living in Paris “waiting” for a sign from her dead twin brother Lewis. You see, Lewis and Maureen are twin mediums and promised each other that in the event of one of their deaths, the deceased would give the other a ghostly sign from the afterlife. “Waiting” really means “mourning” in the grand scheme of things, but as this film is tonally uneven and completely incoherent, there are supernatural elements – not alluded to, but with outright overt depictions. Maureen really is a medium, as well as a personal shopper, and spends her spare time researching means of communication with ghosts, in addition to hunting the spirit of Lewis and that hot new dress for model Kyra.
The film has many strands to it in addition to the core of Maureen’s spiritual quest. The other prominent one being the flurry of texts Maureen receives from a mysterious sender. Unsure if the texts are from a ghost or a human, she engages in the conversation which turns a bit sexually sinister. The texts are portrayed as very mysterious with absolutely no pay off. Scenes that begin to capture the audience’s interest are often jarringly faded to black on a regular basis, some even mid-sentence. This is a very amateurish artistic choice by director Assayas, and while I can only assume it represents Maureen’s spiritual oppression and mourning which is resolved by the end fade to white, it still feels like a very poor and immersion-breaking stylistic choice.
While there are many interesting ideas in Personal Shopper, none of them are seen through to a satisfying conclusion. Kristen Stewart gives a nicely subdued performance, yet there is not enough material for her to work with to make this a truly great turn. Once all of the ideas, central performance and odd fade-to-blacks are put together, this film feels like it could have been made by a student filmmaker, not a world-renowned director. It is pure trash, not cinematic greatness which a Palme d’Or win would imply it to be. Don’t be fooled by the 5-star reviews – the boos it received at Cannes is the most accurate and telling critique of Personal Shopper.