Kristen Stewart has a second outing at Cannes this year with her second collaboration with director Olivier Assayas after last year’s The Clouds of Sils Maria. Whilst not as successful as their previous collaboration, Personal Shopper is an intriguing, sometimes daft and occasionally terrifying supernatural drama.
Stewart is Maureen, personal shopper to a spoilt millionaire for whom she whizzes across Paris and even further afield in search of the outfits, trinkets and baubles the woman requires as she jet-sets around the globe. However, before we see Maureen at work we view her in a vast empty chateau searching for a sign from her recently deceased twin brother. It transpires that the two shared a dodgy heart and the ability to converse with the spiritual world. The pair had made a pact: whoever dies first, sends a sign to the surviving twin. After an uneventful night at the chateau, she meets up with her brother’s grieving girlfriend Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz) and they head back for the city.
Back in Paris more details emerge about Maureen: she loathes her job for the tyrannical Kyra (Nora Von Waldstatten), has a boyfriend waiting for her in Oman, and yet has a life on hold as she waits for a sign and the possibility to move on. Although Maureen is disaffected with her work, it’s not a bad way to make a living as we watch her scoot from atelier to Cartier. Admittedly, she is living the high life vicariously and is under strict instructions from her “monstrous” boss never to try on any of the items she picks. When a bad spirit eventually comes calling back at the chateau, the audience is left to wonder whether this malign entity might not be Maureen’s own bitterness that is beginning to surface.
Assayas very adeptly toys with the audience is true thriller fashion when Maureen heads to London on the Eurostar. On her journey a cat-and-mouse game begins via text between her and a mystery caller. Is this a being from another world or simply a malicious spirit who’s very much of flesh and blood? This is where the film is at its strongest as we watch Maureen begin to unravel and become increasingly paranoid and fearful. Stewart’s usual tics and shrugs are here, but along with them she portrays the grief and the fear of a girl worried that her life could remain at a standstill, somewhere between the living and the dead. And Stewart has to carry this film almost singlehandedly, the support cast very much on the periphery of the story.
Where the film falls down is in certain scenes that don’t ring true, such as when Maureen meets Lara’s new boyfriend (Anders Danielsen Lie) who is given some of the worst lines of the entire film. There is also some dodgy supernatural activity that evokes derision rather than fear or wonder. There’s also the issue of how all these young people – be them personal shoppers or carpenters – manage to own chateaus and reside in fabulous Parisian residences. I could have done without having to watch a bunch of videos about mediums and séances via Maureen’s phone and laptop, too. Despite these failings, Assayas has delivered an intelligent and at times downright scary movie.