Hokum or not, Personal Shopper will keep you thinking and guessing.
Director: Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria)
Cast: Kristen Stewart (Certain Women)
Runtime: 1 hr 45 min
by John DeSando
“I mean there are invisible... presences... around us. Always. I mean whether or not they're the souls of the dead, I don't know, but... You know when you're a medium you just are attuned to some sort of... vibe.” Maureen (Kristen Stewart)
Horror film? not so much as a satisfying study of grief and letting go. Make no mistake, in Personal Shopper horror tropes occur regularly as Maureen is visited by phantasms that could or could not be her deceased twin brother.
Just like Stewart's unaffected but convincing acting style, Assayas's terrifying techniques eschew the showy and offer the subtle. I have had convincing spiritualist experiences but still remain skeptical about the presence of the deceaseds’ souls. Just so with Personal Shopper: I'm ever a skeptic although I am convinced that believing in a presence is common for intense grief, and expunging is a slow process.
Every scene is Maureen’s from extensive close-ups to point of view shots allowing us to see the presence or feel its power with its stomping or dropping glass. In that sense, writer/director Asseyas is affirming the ghosts while leaving some of us in denial accompanied by a confirmation that she believes in what she sees, at least until the closing line.
If you don't believe what you're seeing, you will believe the beauty of the Paris, London, and Oman locations, again underplayed but integral to the belief system Assayas challenges with every frame. As for the title, she is personally searching for an identity, the present personal shopping affording only minimally vicarious pleasure. Of course, she is shopping for her lost brother and her ability to live without his ghost.
A murder makes the proceedings real, a quiet acknowledgment that even if the spiritualism seems suspect, blood, police, and a murderer are palpable. Modernizing with anonymous text messages to the heroine (“I know you”) brings us close to the reality of living in the hectic presence with just the putative contact of another world to take us briefly away from our own.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com