Film Review: Personal ShopperFan The Fire Recommends

Posted in Film, Recommended, Reviews
By Martin Roberts on 13 Mar 2017

In this unusual psychological chiller from director Olivier Assayas, Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper – essentially a personal assistant, primarily responsible for sourcing clothing and accessories – to a high-profile celebrity whom she rarely sees. She, dislikes the job, but is persisting with it because the money allows her a flexible lifestyle in Paris, and the time to repeatedly visit the old, creaking house where her twin brother died. Maureen and her brother were not only twins, but twin mediums. Maureen is waiting for a sign from her dead brother to confirm that he has ‘moved on’.

The film is a concoction of multiple genres, and has a genetic connection to haunted-house horror films, although filtered through a lens of cerebral drama and Hitchcockian suspense. These elements blend into what is primarily a character study – just what is Maureen really waiting for, and why? To what extent is what we know about her true? These are clearly tropes of the psychological thriller genre, but Assayas renders them in a fresh, engaging drama.

This is Stewart’s second role in an Assayas film, and there are cosmetic similarities between the characters she plays, most obviously that Maureen, like Valentine in Clouds of Sils Maria, is in the service of a celebrity. This is a different, more tightly wound performance, though, and Stewart again is very convincing. Whereas in Clouds of Sils Maria she was required to spar intellectually with Juliette Binoche’s actress, here she is very much the centre of the film, both physically and emotionally. She, along with the convincing tone established by Assayas – helps carry the film through its potentially risible elements.

Personal Shopper is a balancing act between the supernatural and the real, and Assayas handles the switches in tone well. Maureen believes her job is simply a necessity to keep her ticking over while she deals with her brother’s absence, but we quickly realise there may be more to it than that. It’s impressive that the atmosphere is maintained whether Maureen is wandering around a spooky house or sitting on a train reading text messages (in what is an effective, if overly protracted, sequence) and Assayas and Stewart hold everything together right up to the nicely staged conclusion.

If there is a significant issue with the film, it’s that the disparate elements work together only up to a certain point, and as a result Personal Shopper is neither truly scary or emotionally involving. But having said that, I enjoyed the blend of genres and appreciated the fact that Assayas was trying something bold. That boldness, couple with Stewart’s winning lead performance, make Personal Shopper worth a look.

4/5

 

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