10th October 2016 6.00pm at Vue West End
11th October 2016 9.00pm at Picturehouse Central
13th October 2016 12.15pm at BFI Southbank (NFT)
The elements are familiar, but they’ve never been put together in quite the same way as they are in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper. Prompting boos at its Cannes premiere, though going on to win the Best Director award, part of the appeal of this film is its basic unknowability; it is a story which seems so immediate, so outwardly different and risk-taking, that it requires some time to prove its worth.
From the opening, the impression is that this will be a horror film. The first image is a black iron fence, with dead leaves blowing in the background. Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz) drops Maureen (Kristen Stewart) off at an abandoned house, and promptly leaves; Maureen then spends the night there, with the lights off, calling out a name. It’s revealed that Maureen is a medium, looking for the spirit of her dead brother.
Yet no sooner is this established than Assayas’s gliding camera whisks away to the fashion world of Paris. Maureen also works as a personal shopper for an A-list celebrity, Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). She goes around shops, picks out clothes, then leaves them at Kyra’s apartment for her spoilt hide to wear on red carpets. But these worlds begin to collide, as an aggravated spirit begins to haunt Maureen’s life, including infecting her phone and sending her disturbing texts.
Or does it? There’s a mystery at the centre of Personal Shopper that some will find inherently unsatisfying; Assayas provokes without offering definitive answers. Nevertheless, the ride is hypnotising. Kristen Stewart – who’s been a fantastic, naturalistic actress since Adventureland, but only now is receiving her due – gives a career-best performance; probably one of the best performances of the year. She lives a lonely lifestyle, working for an employer she barely sees, and her only form of contact with her boyfriend is through Skype. It’s easy to mock the texting scenes, but what makes them an absolute masterclass in tension-building is the power of Stewart’s crumbling nerves, which she must restrain in public places of transit.
A predecessor is Assayas’s unfairly maligned Demonlover, which also positioned a heroine as a victim of modern capitalism and technology; shaped by her environment, but also helpless to escape it. Personal Shopper delivers solid genre thrills, including moments that are genuinely terrifying, and a complex treatise on contemporary isolation and grief: opaque but thoroughly engaging.
Personal Shopper does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Personal Shopper here: