Film

Personal Shopper

The haunting of Kristen Stewart

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

No matter what sort of movie you’re expecting from Personal Shopper, you’ll get it. You’ll also contend with three others, and then the movie you first expected will turn inside out.

So all that awaits the receptive viewer, along with a dangling modifier of an ending guaranteed to satisfy virtually no one. Even so, this is one of the most intriguing pictures of the year, a genre-hopper of unusual gravity. It’s also the latest proof that Kristen Stewart has the goods for a long-haul acting career, with all sorts of directors, playing all sorts of characters.

Personal Shopper comes from writer-director Olivier Assayas, based in France, who worked previously with Stewart on Clouds of Sils Maria three years ago. There she played a restless American assistant to an internationally famous actress (Juliette Binoche). Their increasingly fraught and emotionally loaded relationship led to a scene in the mountains where the Stewart character took her leave, suddenly and finally, in a cloud of mystery recalling Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’Avventura and a hint of a ghost story.

In Personal Shopper, hints are not enough. Stewart plays Maureen, an American making a hollow, silly living in Paris as personal shopper to a demanding high-fashion celebrity (Nora von Waldstatten). She’s perpetually sending Maureen off to Chanel or some other boutique for jewels, or shoes, and has a strict policy against Maureen trying any of her outfits on for size, or for wish-fulfillment fantasy purposes.

Maureen’s twin brother, Lewis, died just weeks earlier, the victim of the same “malformation” of the heart marking her condition. A spiritual medium, like her brother, Maureen exists day to day in a state of suspended animation, waiting for a sign from the beyond from her late twin.

A more conventional script would lay these details out, and then get to the first scene in the creaky old country home outside Paris where Lewis lived. Here, in a quiet, shadowy overture, Assayas takes us into the shadows straight off, where Maureen awaits a signal, a bump, anything. The plot stuff can wait for a while.

There are surprises, and while those who require full-on jump scares and methodical explanations may well hate Personal Shopper, the most effective stretch is also the most traditionally suspenseful. On a quick trip to London, after she’s made contact with some sort of ectoplasmic being in the old dark house, Maureen receives a text from UNKNOWN stating, simply: “I know you.” And then: “I’m watching you.” By this time Assayas has established just enough side characters—her late brother’s lover, played by Sigrid Bouaziz; her employer’s spurned boyfriend, a murmuring sort played by Lars Eidinger—for some legitimate guessing games. But Maureen wonders if it’s Lewis, teasing her from the beyond, making her question her own sanity, or holding her to the bargain the twins made before Lewis’ death.

Movies make frequent functional use in narrative terms of texting conversations, but Personal Shopper takes it to another level entirely. The nervous rhythm of these scenes is beautifully controlled, and cinematographer Yorick Le Saux makes every interior and exterior image a thing of unforced beauty. In many ways this is a tale of a young woman’s agitated grief, pure and simple, and Stewart’s wonderful and wholly persuasive as that woman.

At times, Personal Shopper is quite plain in what it’s showing us; Lewis’ spirit (or some other spirit) manifests itself by way of floating glassware and doors opening and closing on their own, as if Assayas were adapting a Paris-set revival of Harvey. Other elements are glanced upon or elided. I suspect Assayas could have gotten away with his ending with just a slight adjustment in emphasis; as is, it’s abrupt enough to betray a hint of insecurity.

Still: I was grateful for the gentle, watchful discombobulation. The movie barely hangs together, but there’s a kind of magic in that word barely when you’re in the movie’s thrall. At one point Maureen’s doctor advises her to avoid “intense physical efforts and extreme emotions.” Assayas is an artist with a natural aversion to extreme emotions, but the feeling in Personal Shopper, fleeting yet distinct, gives Stewart everything she needs as an actress.

SVCR Aaron Neville
More Film...
Girls Trip
It’s ladies night

It’s barely been a month since the joyless Rough Night came and went in a blur of indifference, and this new comedy on paper could almost be the same movie—only with black sorority sisters and no corpse to dampen the weekend getaway. The difference is that Girls Trip actually delivers on…

more »
War for the Planet of the Apes
Render unto Caesar

Almost as rare as winning the Triple Crown in horse racing is to make a film trilogy that clicks from beginning to end, but Fox has pretty much pulled it off with its refurbished Planet of the Apes trio. After surprising everyone who felt the half-century-old franchise had been buried for…

more »
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Marvel’s Boy Wonder

At no point in Spider-Man: Homecoming is anyone bitten by a radioactive spider. That’s already happened—not just in two prior Spider-Man movies, but also in the world of this new one, populated by an ever-growing roster of Avengers. The fateful encounter between a teenage egghead and a…

more »
Events
Today
Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Sounds by the bay

9:41am

The soundtrack of summer

10:16am

Look to the skies

8:43pm

Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Look to the skies

8:43pm

Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Look to the skies

8:43pm

Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

2:00pm|Vanier Park

I and You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Project Homeless Connect

9:00am|Bellingham High School

Wild Things

9:30am|Boulevard Park

Community Quilt Project

10:00am|Deming Library

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Mission Folk Music Festival

12:00pm|Fraser River Heritage Park

North Cascades Vintage Fly-In

12:00pm|Concrete

Books and Bites

1:00pm|Blaine Library

Ferndale Farmers Market

3:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk Park

Pop-Up Beer Garden

3:00pm|Fairhaven

Sin & Gin Tours

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|downtown Bellingham

Commercial Street Night Market

6:00pm|Commerical Street

Family Story Night

6:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Port of Anacortes Summer Concert Series

6:00pm|Seafarers Park

The Drowsy Chaperone

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Burlington Summer Nights

7:00pm|Burlington Visitors Center Amphitheater

Dancing on the Green

7:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Skagit River Shakespeare Festival

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

Sandcastle

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Festival of Music Finale

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center

An Improvised Musical

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Village Books
Tomorrow
Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Look to the skies

8:43pm

Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Look to the skies

8:43pm

Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Look to the skies

8:43pm

Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

2:00pm|Vanier Park

I and You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Mission Folk Music Festival

12:00pm|Fraser River Heritage Park

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

North Cascades Vintage Fly-In

12:00pm|Concrete

Pop-Up Beer Garden

3:00pm|Fairhaven

Sin & Gin Tours

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

The Drowsy Chaperone

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Skagit River Shakespeare Festival

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

Sandcastle

7:30pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

An Improvised Musical

9:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Plant Hike

7:00am|Grouse Ridge

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|North Fork Library, Nugents Corner

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Forest Owners Field Day

9:00am|Alexander Ross Tree Farm

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Lummi Island Saturday Market

10:00am|Lummi Island

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Summer Harvest Day

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Birch Bay Sandcastle Competition

10:00am|Birch Bay Community Park

Fairhaven Steampunk Festival

10:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Summer Sampling Party

11:00am|Skagit Valley Food Co-op

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Farm to Glass Distillery Tours

12:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Weaving Indra's Net

12:30pm|Lummi Island Library

Curator Talk and Clayton James Celebration

1:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Artifacts of time and place

1:00pm

Field Games Day

1:00pm|VanderYacht Park

Beauty Lou and the Country Beast

3:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Nooksack River Walk

3:00pm|Horseshoe Bend Trailhead

Taste of Walla Walla Dinner Cruise

5:00pm|Cap Sante Marina

Wine and Paint

6:30pm|Stoneycreek Glassware

Feast & Frolic in the Fields

6:30pm|Viva Farms

Larry Hildes Benefit Concert

7:00pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Look to the skies

8:43pm

Village Books Trove
Sunday
Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Look to the skies

8:43pm

Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Look to the skies

8:43pm

Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Look to the skies

8:43pm

Sounds by the bay

9:41am

Skagit Tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

2:00pm|Vanier Park

I and You

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

North Cascades Vintage Fly-In

12:00pm|Concrete

Mission Folk Music Festival

12:00pm|Fraser River Heritage Park

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Pop-Up Beer Garden

3:00pm|Fairhaven

The Drowsy Chaperone

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Skagit River Shakespeare Festival

7:00pm|Rexville Grange Amphitheater

Birch Bay Sandcastle Competition

10:00am|Birch Bay Community Park

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Farm to Glass Distillery Tours

12:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Look to the skies

8:43pm

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Vietnam Veterans Car Show

10:00am|Barkley Village

Forest Walk

11:00am|Fairhaven Park

Plover Ferry Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

La Conner Live!

1:00pm|Gilkey Square

Brewers by the Bay

1:00pm|Depot Market Square

Audubon at the Museum

2:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Angels in America

2:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

MBT Open House

2:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Fiddlin' Fox Summer Concert Series

2:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Trivia Night

5:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Marrowstone Music Festival

7:00pm|Western Washington University

Mousetrap Auditions

7:00pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

see our complete calendar »

Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Lester and Hyldahl Bellingham Farmer’s Market Trove