Olivier Assayas seems to have found his latest muse in Kristen Stewart. After directing her to a César for Best Supporting Actress in Clouds of Sils Maria — the first for an American actress — he has cast her as the lead in his next film, the contemplatively arty ghost story, Personal Shopper.
Stewart again plays a personal assistant, this time a shopper for the glamorous and almost entirely absent Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). Maureen is the one who schleps all over Paris, and even takes jaunts to London, picking out designer clothes and accessories from dresses to jewelry to handbags. In many cases, her employer will just wear the item once at some public event before returning it to the boutique. Or she’ll decide not to return it after all, leaving Maureen on the hook to deal with the fallout. And though Maureen has the keys to come and go from Kyra’s flat, and takes care of any number of other personal errands like updating her laptop’s operating system, she is expressly forbidden from trying on any of Kyra’s clothes herself.
Maureen is also dealing with the recent death of her twin brother, Lewis, who succumbed to a certain malformation of the heart that she shares. Lewis was an artist who considered himself a medium. Maureen has felt something, but isn’t as sure that it’s supernatural. But they made promises that if either one of them died, they’d try to send a message back to the other.
So Lewis’ girlfriend, Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz), lets Maureen spend a few nights in their emptied old house before the new owners move in. And she does experience something strange, but what is it? Things only get creepier when she starts receiving texts from an unknown number, sent by someone who seems to know where she is and what she’s doing.
As in Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas takes a slow, elliptical pace in Personal Shopper, calmly observing the surface while letting us fill in Maureen’s inner turmoil. She wrestles with some big questions of personal identity and interpersonal relations. As a twin, she is a sort of copy of someone else. As a personal shopper, she acts on behalf of someone else. She has no strong relationships; she worries her heart doesn’t work right. She is, in a way, herself a ghost, floating immaterially through someone else’s life. And her confusion leaves her vulnerable.
It’s certainly not the kind of movie that will appeal to all tastes, but it plays on Stewarts strengths as a naturalistic actor who can communicate her inward mental states to an audience as few others can. While never quite scary in a traditional horror or thriller sense, it does leave a chill that lingers well after its gone.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: pass.