PERSONAL SHOPPER (France 2016) ***
Directed by Olivier Assayas
After the modest box-office success of CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA, director Oliver Assayas (IRMA VEP, CLEAN) and actress Kristen Stewart reunite with a moody ghost story called PERSONAL SHOPPER. The title character, Maureen is as the title implies, a personal shopper for a wealthy German model and designer, Kyra (Nora Von Waltstätten). Maureen also has a ghostly encounter from her recently dead brother who she was quite close with.
The closeness is explained in two reasons - necessary to convince the audience why she is so determined to have a spiritual encounter with him. One is that he is her twin. Second is that the both suffer from the same health issue, though someone could live till a hundred with it. What happened to the brother is explained by the doctor as a rarity. But Maureen cannot indulge in any excessive physical activity.
Within the first 15 minutes of the film’s running time, the only thing established is that Stewart plays a personal shopper and that she has had one ghost encounter. The audience is obvious primed for a slow haul of a movie. Not much has happened except that Stewart has been walking around, mucking around and just looking at dresses for Kyra. The dresses are very glamorous, for those who like to look at dresses. Maureen is forbidden to wear the dresses. But she does, even masturbating in one of the sexier ones.
PERSONAL SHOPPER works off Maureen’s character with a few side incidents. Maureen rides along on a scooter, has a few ghostly encounters (though not fully explained who the apparitions are), runs errands and has an uncomfortable encounter with a stalker on her mobile phone. The film contains a loose narrative but a strong presence in Kristen Stewart’s character. Assayas is in playful mood here milking the most out of his actress. One side incident involving a murder is done Hitchcock style. Maureen discovers a brutal murder just as in the scene in Hitchcock’s THE BIRDS when the first attack of the birds was discovered.
As a ghost story, the ghost appears as an apparition similar to old ghost films with dust stirred up with blurred figures. The seance scene also looks typical of those in early ghost stories.
In the end, one eventually asks whether this light hearted ghost story is any fun. Well it might be for director Assayas and his star, but it might be too much of a slow and long haul for others. Assayas leaves his film with an open ending that might have some audiences dissatisfied. But on the same hand, PERSONAL SHOPPER is not a film that lends to a Hollywood ending. Having one would have destroyed the entire atmosphere of the film Assayas had so carefully created.
The film is shot in English, with some French and German spoken (and an elaborate German song) with a moody setting in both Paris and London. Interesting but not great!