Maureen is a young American in Paris making her living as a personal shopper for a celebrity. Also, she may have the psychic ability to communicate with spirits, just like her twin brother, Lewis, who recently passed away. Maureen soon starts receiving mysterious messages coming from an unknown source.
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL: Olivier Assayas’ Personal Shopper is an existential ghost story for people who say they don’t like scary movies. Difficult to classify, it takes a genre plot about a haunted house and plonks it within a story of urban isolation, with a whodunit thrown in because why not.
The director reunites with Kristen Stewart, the Cesar-winning scene stealer of Clouds of Sils Maria. As with that role (and her Café Society character), Stewart once again plays an assistant to a famous person. Maureen (Stewart) works as the personal shopper for a celebrity whom she loathes but rarely sees: the monstrous model/socialite Kira, who has achieved a level of fame that renders her incapable of co-existing in the ‘real world’ with plebs like you and me (and Maureen). Rather, she’s an absent annoyance who shows up late for appointments and refuses to return designer samples that Maureen has placed inside her wardrobe. Maureen hates the job but loves the clothes (maybe a little too much), and the easy work enables her to focus on her passion: summoning the ghost of her dead brother.
Maureen has put her life on hold until her twin Lewis reaches out to her from beyond the grave. The pair shared a congenital heart defect and had vowed that the first to succumb to it would send the other a signal ‘from the other side’ to let them know they were doing okay. When we meet Maureen, it’s nearing 90 days since Lewis passed and she’s delaying the sale of his house to await the green light from his ghost.
By night Maureen roams around Lewis’ draughty country mansion in the dark, whispering his name and latching onto every disturbance as potential evidence of a poltergeist. Is that Lewis talking through the leaky tap? Was that crucifix on the wall always there? Assayas follows Stewart with a single camera and low lighting as she investigates the things that go bump in the night, and builds the tension ever-so-slowly until we witness whatever it is Maureen summons, wills, goads into being; let’s just say this supernatural signal’s far less ambiguous than a slow drip in the bathtub. The scenes where Maureen meets a menacing apparition are genuinely unsettling for a wuss like me, but of course they’re just one aspect of this strange, sexy grief story. Maureen’s encounter sets off a bizarre sequence of events which compels her to question her own sanity, due to the sneaking suspicion that she might be being stalked by a ghost.
Stewart is engrossing as the grieving twin and invisible employee whose own health issues make an early death a distinct possibility. Small wonder Maureen latches onto the idea of connecting with the spirit world when Lewis’ shock death has pried open the door to the afterlife. As is so often the case, in the face of death she seeks out any form of connection: she develops a confidence and a hyper-sexuality as she gets involved with a mysterious presence, and is encouraged to take risks she daren’t have before.
Not everyone’s going to go for this movie– and indeed, not everyone did here in Cannes when Personal Shopper just screened for the first time. A couple of lunkheads started booing and hissing loudly, no doubt expecting a more conventional resolution to Maureen’s story, but the film offers no easy answers – no answers at all, in fact. This being an Assayas film, all the talk of ghosts is really a reason to peer into the void and contemplate your own proximity to it. When confronted with questions of your own mortality, do you really want to be the guy who boos?
Watch a scene clip:
Wednesday 13 November, 10:00PM on SBS World Movies (streaming after broadcast at SBS On Demand)
Genre: Drama, Horror
Language: English, French
Director: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Benjamin Biolay
What's it about?
Maureen (Stewart) is a young American in Paris making her living as a personal shopper for a celebrity. Also, she may have the psychic ability to communicate with spirits, just like her twin brother, Lewis, who recently passed away. Maureen soon starts receiving mysterious messages coming from an unknown source. From Olivier Assayas, director of Carlos, Irma Vep, Summer Hours and Clouds of Sils Maria.