Length: 105 mins
Writer: Olivier Assayas
Dir.: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz
It’s thankfully a reasonably rare occurrence, but occasionally a film comes along that just defies understanding. Movies are weird at the best of times, but when a film seems to take a perverse pride in being intentionally baffling, it often comes across that the film-maker is a deluded auteur – operating on a level of irony that mere mortals can’t understand. Either that or they are taking the piss. I’m not sure if Personal Shopper is doing it on purpose or not, but I’m here to tell you that it’s one of the most perplexing movies I’ve seen in a long while.
Part of problem is that the film doesn’t seem to have a clear idea what story it’s trying to tell. The story sees Maureen Cartwright (Stewart), personal shopper and apparent medium who is seeking to contact her dead twin brother and ascertain whether there is indeed an afterlife. That’s how it starts at least – we see Maureen walking round her brother’s house investigating strange noises and whatnot. It’s all suitably creepy until the movie just abandons this premise for an entirely different story. With no warning, the film becomes a psychosexual thriller where Maureen receives texts from an unknown number that progressively manipulate her into compromising situations. Just as I got invested in this, the narrative becomes a murder mystery for about 10 minutes before returning to the ghost story for the finale.
Incomprehensible as it is, I actually thought that each of the sections were well done and could have probably sustained an entire movie in their own right. The ghost story was well executed and suitably creepy (though it did get a bit ridiculous by the end). Similarly, the thriller section and its connected murder mystery could have made for an interesting story (though it was quite predictable). For reasons best known to himself, though, the screenwriter chose to mash these two incompatible plots together and it just doesn’t work.
Acting-wise, Stewart is clearly the centre of attention here and… I really haven’t seen enough of her films to tell whether her performance here is markedly better or worse than her previous work. She’s fine, I suppose. She plays awkward very well – in fact, I’d go as far to say that she’s cornered the market on fidgeting and avoiding eye contact. Joking aside, her performance is just about the only thing that works in the film. So that’s something, I suppose.
Look, in all honesty, this film could be a masterpiece for all I know. I’ll happily put my hands up and say that I didn’t ‘get’ this movie – but I’m genuinely not sure that there is anything to get. A confused and confusing movie, that can’t figure out what story it wants to tell. There’s great potential here, but it’s covered in layers of pretension and good old fashioned bad storytelling.