French director Olivier Assayas and American actress Kristen Stewart are a seemingly unconventional pairing who meld surprisingly well together in their director/actor partnership. Assayas brought out some of Stewart’s best work (and she has done some really good films and roles lately) in her César Award-winning role in Clouds of Sils Maria as the assistant to Juliette Binoche’s aging (in Hollywood terms, at least) actress.
Personal Shopper almost seems like a short-story offshoot to Stewart’s role in that film. Maureen (Stewart) is the personal shopper to a starlet named Kyra. We, like Maureen, rarely see Kyra. She is out and about, going to places and parties to be seen, whereas Maureen is the invisible magician that makes Kyra dress fabulously. Maureen is an American in Paris, a scrappy-looking young woman who nonetheless schleps gowns and jewels on her scooter to her boss, but also has an odd other life.
“Why is she in Paris?”an acquaintance asks. It turns out Maureen’s twin brother Lewis died there three months ago. She and her brother shared skills as mediums, able to communicate with spirits. Maureen and her brother had a pact: Whoever died first had to give a sign to the other from the afterlife. Maureen has been waiting for that sign.
Personal Shopper is an odd film indeed. Part of the time, you are watching the strange daily schedule of someone whose entire job is to manage the public image of someone she never sees. Then the flip side of this solitary woman’s life is a desperate act of waiting and listening, her grief and yearning for a message from the afterlife seemingly sucking the joie de vivre out of her own existence. When she gets what she thinks is a sign, you find yourself leaning in close with hesitant anticipation, just as she does.
This modern ghost story offers more questions than answers, but Stewart’s intriguing performance and Assayas’ curious storytelling make for yet another interesting film.