Directed by Olivier Assayas (who won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for this film) and starring almost exclusively Kristen Stewart, Personal Shopper is part drama, part supernatural thriller, part ghost story and part art-house. It might seem like it has too many things going on at once, but Assayas, like the masterful juggler that he is, balances everything out and manages to create an unconventional and deeply affecting genre-blender.
Maureen (Kristen Stewart) and her twin brother Lewis are mediums, and, after the death of the latter due to heart attack, she goes to Paris to try and make contact with him. Meanwhile, she also works as a personal shopper for the seldom seen celebrity Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), and she starts receiving text messages from an unknown number: is it her brother, another ghost, or a stalker?
At the core of the movie, there is undoubtedly grief. Unlike other films that tackle this theme (going through all the different stages and finding closure), Personal Shopper focuses on one stage: yearning and searching. In a world where everyone is connected through smartphones and the Internet, Maureen tries to contact her brother, yet she either finds nothing or does not believe that the supernatural occurrences are coming from him. She is haunted by ghosts, but she herself wanders around like a lost spirit, unsure of her future and of what is to come. Even if elliptical, the open ending that Assayas delivers us has a strong message: as much as we both try to forget and accept the ghosts of our past, we have to accept that they forged our identity in all kinds of ways, and we will carry them till the end of our lives.
The ambiguity and lack of exposition of this movie also works to the benefit of another theme: our identity. Maureen works for a celebrity (whose true occupation is never revealed) that is obsessed with fashion, crazy rich, a “fake humanitarian” (she owns gorillas, go figure), and an overall annoying and self-entitled brat that some might be justified to call bitch. As much as Maureen (and we as an audience) dislike her, her lifestyle still looks appealing, and the desire to be like Kyra grows and grows as more money is wasted in buying stylish clothes that cannot be worn. This desire of wanting to wear these clothes is both a literal and metaphorical way of becoming someone else, something that intrigues us, but someone that is not us nonetheless: we are who we are, and accepting that (instead of forcing ourselves into being someone we are not) is the key to a peaceful life.
Another strong aspect of the movie is the cinematography: Yorick Le Saux always frames Kristen Stewart in the center of the frame, rarely looking at something that is not her. She slowly walks through desolated houses, Parisian streets filled with faceless people glued to their phones, trains and buses where everyone is isolated, all done with either long takes or a small number of cuts. The atmosphere slowly gets more and more suffocating, leaving you aching for a wide angle or an establishment shot. This perfectly encapsulates the state that our protagonist is in, and the only semblance of peace is seen in gorgeous panoramic shots near the end of the movie, only to finish with a long take (over 3 minutes long) that brings that feeling of oppression back.
Kristen Stewart gives a career-best performance. To many she is stigmatized as being Bella from the Twilight Saga, but to me she will be one of the best mainstream-turned-indie actresses of recent memory, and here she gives it her all. Throughout most of the film, it seems as if she is about to have a nervous breakdown, and her face looks like the one of someone constantly tormented that can never get sleep. The rest of the cast is very good as well, even though most of them have only one scene in the movie.
If I had to nit-pick, I have to say that the first act of the movie (as crucial as it is to the plot) is not particularly interesting and is likely to lose most audience members that are not fully prepared (my sister fell asleep after the first 10 minutes), but thankfully picks up right after that. Also, the special effects are very minimal, but when used in one scene in particular they are not all that convincing.
Overall, Personal Shopper is one of the best art-house movies of the year, with thought-provoking story, masterful directing and top-notch acting. Not for everyone, those who enjoy a slow burn that requires some thinking after it has ended are going to enjoy themselves. Easily one of my favorite films of 2017.
Visual Effects: 8
Violence & Gore: 8
Sex & Nudity: 7.5
Drugs & Profanity: 4
Intensity & Horror: 7