Personal Shopper

 

starstarstarstar

 

 

A highly original take on the possibility of evidence of a life after death.

 

Personal Shopper

Kristen Stewart

 

Although shot for the most apart in English, this French film largely set in Paris invites comparison with another work from France, Guillaume Nicloux's Valley of Love (2015). In that film a  couple whose lives had gone in different directions were reunited for a week or so, this under the influence of their recently deceased son's belief that if they followed an itinerary laid down by him he could make his spiritual presence known to them. In Personal Shopper it is not a son but a twin brother whose beliefs as a medium persuade his more sceptical sister, Maureen (Kristen Stewart), that he will be able to prove the existence of an afterlife by showing some evidence of his presence if she stays on in France where she is working for a celebrity, Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten).

 

But, despite the similarities in the dramatic notion that propels the plot in both cases, the two films are very different creatures. Where Valley of Love used the situation to provide an acute exploration of a failed relationship, Olivier Assayas as writer and director of Personal Shopper seems much more concerned to play with the notion of what can be done within the sphere of ghost stories that intersect with psychological studies and the world of thrillers (there is a murder in Personal Shopper). If Valley of Love, superbly acted by Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu, sadly went off the rails late on by trying to embrace spiritual and surreal elements, Personal Shopper, which appeals less to my own taste, works better overall because its tone is consistent throughout.

 

I may be dubious about those who would declare Personal Shopper a masterpiece, but it will be much appreciated by those who enjoy tales that trade in the mysterious with possible supernatural elements at their centre. The film gains not only from being very capably acted but from the direction (and writing) of Assayas who carried off the top director prize for this work at Cannes in 2016. He plays with his audience in clever ways as is apparent from the following. He takes the cliché out of creepy scenes in dark houses by rejecting any musical accompaniment. He introduces references to artists of the past who believed in or were inspired by spiritualism (Victor Hugo, Hilma af Klint). He touches on modern unease when iPhone messages from an unknown person produce a response that becomes obsessional. He portrays Maureen as someone unsure of herself and of the person she wants to be (working as a shopper for Kyra who is too famous to do her own shopping unmobbed, she secretly wants to put on the expensive dresses and shoes that she buys for her employer). 

 

Where this leads is to a denouement which, according to taste can be read either as clarifying what is going on or as retaining the mystery of it. Either way, I don't find the film profound, but it does entertain consistently and admirably on its own terms. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graïa, Nora von Waldstätten, Benjamin Biolay, Audrey Bonnet, Pascal Rambert.

Dir Olivier Assayas, Pro Charles Gillibert, Screenplay Olivier Assayas, Ph Yorick Le Saux, Pro Des François-Renaud  Labarthe, Ed Marion Monnier, Costumes Jürgen Doering.

 

CG Cinéma/Vortex Sutra/Sirena Film/ARTE France Cinéma/ARTE Deutschland/WDR-Icon Film Distribution.
105 mins. France/Germany/Czech Republic/Belgium. 2016. Rel: 17 March 2017. Cert. 15.