Review: Personal Shopper (2016)

Admittedly, I don’t fully understand this film. Olivier Assayas is fast becoming a filmmaker I’ll watch for what’s evoked, not what’s necessarily there. In Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart is haunted by events, both grounded in reality and distinctly otherworldly. I feel like that’s all the summary anyone needs. Spoilers ahead!

Without a doubt, this film would have flopped without the wonderfully enigmatic presence that Stewart brings as the protagonist. Maureen, in her repression and secrecy, exposes herself throughout the course of the film without needing to say much about herself. It’s all in Stewart’s physicality – the fidgety persona she adopts for Maureen being the most obvious and characteristic. Maureen always has to be holding something, and if it’s food or drink she doesn’t necessarily have to consume any of it. Little distractions shape her character and prevent her from succumbing to her memories of darker times, specifically her twin brother’s death. Stewart fills in the blanks of what could be a jittery stock character fabulously, and this is her most generous performance to me.

Character-wise, we don’t know much about the people who inhabit this story, and considering the very final line of the entire thing, that makes it explicitly a character study. We’re not really sure why Maureen is so obsessed with the forbidden, although we’ll have a million guesses. What’s most fulfilling about the film besides Stewart’s performance is how the camerawork complements that. It stalks her from all angles, leaving her utterly exposed but somehow we never see her completely at any one time – Maureen will always have a wall up when presenting herself to an audience. The aforementioned final line (which I dare not butcher and thus won’t quote) is essentially the only self-confrontation we viewers get to experience with her as Stewart breaks the fourth wall and speaks to us directly. It’s oddly fulfilling, as though the character is at least beginning to take steps towards coping with her grief.

While Personal Shopper isn’t choppy in terms of editing or even story, it weaves in so many different kinds of narrative together that the entire product feels rather overwhelming. The film aestheticises different manifestations of repression so expertly that it truly embodies the tensest of thrillers. It isn’t scary outright, but it is certainly creepy and atmospheric. It discusses identity, familial obligation, womanhood and permanence (or a lack thereof), among many other themes. Definitely one of those films you just have to see and make up your own mind about, because so much of it is open to interpretation. We just see through Stewart’s point-of-view entirely here, and I’ll be damned if anybody proclaims she’s a bad actress after this.

★★★★

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