Personal Shopper – VIFF 2016 Review


Olivier Assayas’ latest film, Personal Shopper, is an eccentric ghost story, expertly told, and gauging by the up-and-down reception it garnered at Cannes earlier this year (frequent boos followed by a standing ovation) it’s fair to say that this film is also something of a misunderstood masterpiece.

Teaming for a second time with with the eye-catching Kristen Stewart after 2014’s excellent Clouds of Sils Maria, this film once again finds her in the role of a personal assistant for a demanding celebrity.

Maureen Cartwright (Stewart) is a young American in Paris where she’s gainfully employed as a personal shopper, assistant, and something of an accessory to Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten), a wildly demanding “pain in the ass” supermodel and fashion designer, too busy with Milan Fashion Week to do much more than leave constant instructions for Maureen.

Maureen is also a medium, grieving the recent death of her twin brother, Lewis, and resolved to contact him and find out if he’s at peace. Lewis, who supported her claims as a medium, always promised he’d try to contact her if he were to die first––a likelihood as they both suffer from a similar congenital heart condition. When not kowtowing to Kyra, Maureen has ample time to visit the hoary and unsettling Parisian house that he passed away in.

As this strange mystery loosens Assayas regularly wrong foots the audience and it’s something of a slow burn, yet Personal Shopper is unhurriedly imaginative, and effectively quite creepy.

Stewart’s Maureen is enigmatic yet unafraid as she plunges deep into chiller territory, and a few extended sequences involving, of all things, mysterious messages on her iPhone have an almost Hitchcockian exuberance as they unravel. Her clue-gathering gains momentum and there won’t be any spoilers here but a number of dicey hazards and run-ins with at least two ectoplasmic entities add to the narrative rather nicely.

A few instances during Personal Shopper, as when Maureen rather regrettably spends a night in Kyra’s high-class Paris apartment while she’s away and plays dress up in her lavishly upscale designer threads while French pop music peals in juxtaposition to bad behaviour, recalls and refracts the improvised experiences and nonchalant tempo of Assayas’ earlier Irma Vep (1996).

And like Assayas’ finest work, Personal Shopper has several razor-sharp barbs aimed at contemporary culture. Pleasingly provocative and vigorously cool, Personal Shopper is something of a showpiece. Superb.

Taste of Cinema Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)

Author Bio: Shane Scott-Travis is a film critic, screenwriter, comic book author/illustrator and cineaste. Currently residing in Vancouver, Canada, Shane can often be found at the cinema, the dog park, or off in a corner someplace, paraphrasing Groucho Marx. Follow Shane on Twitter @ShaneScottravis.