Director Olivier Assayas new feature Personal Shopper, much like its predecessor Clouds of Sils Maria, finds Kristen Stewart in an assistant role. An unusual collaboration of high fashion and the supernatural, this time Stewart takes the dramatic lead. Successfully combining Hollywood glamour with European arthouse cinema sensibilities, Stewart’s simple understated performance stands toe-to-toe with Assayas’ otherworldly subtleties and opulent high fashion aesthetics.
Stewart’s plays Maureen Cartwright, an American living in Paris, unwilling to move on from the death of her twin brother, Lewis. Lewis who was a spiritual medium in life made a pact with her: whoever dies first, will send a message from the after-life. The film’s opening scenes find Maureen camping outside at Lewis’ rather disconcertingly empty old Victorian house in the French countryside where he lived there with his girlfriend Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz), who is reluctant to join Maureen on her mission of contacting him.
We follow Maureen around Paris, peeking into her life as a personal shopper to famous fashion model/ designer, Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). Maureen zooms around Paris on her Vespa; from Chanel to Cartier, atelier to atelier, dropping bags and bags of shopping back to Kyra’s flat at the end of every day. Maureen never warms to the spoilt Kyra. Continuously exposed to all these exclusive, beautiful, sought-after garments and the lavish surroundings; she remains in an everyday attire of jeans and jumpers.
A connection is made; whether it’s with Lewis we are unsure. Even when viewers are witness to paranormal occurrences; such as visible shadows or white mists expelling cytoplasm; Assayas never differentiates between the real or imagined. The film’s supernatural element avoid being vulgar. At first, he keeps the film’s two strands separate; a cliff-hanger moment of unexplained noises and moving shadows is followed by a scene of flicking through designer dresses on a clothes rack. They converge when Maureen, on a shopping trip to London, receives a series of texts from an unknown number revealing personal information that only Lewis would have known.
Stewart is the queen of understatement; occupying scenes with silence and introspection, with muted moments in Personal Shopper showing her vast internal conflict. Like in Cloud of Sils Maria for Binoche’s character, there is an eventual personal breakthrough for Maureen. In coming to terms with her brother’s death she also realise that the possibility of the afterlife can be truly comforting.
Words by Daniel Theophanous
Personal Shopper is released in UK cinemas on the 17th of March