Olivier Assayas’s latest film, Personal Shopper, was met with high praise when released during last year’s Cannes Film Festival. While the film managed to win Best Director, which Assayas shared with Cristian Mungiu, the film was extremely divisive amongst the critics who saw it, even as going as far as booing the film during its premiere. After laying witness to the Kristen Stewart vehicle, it’s extremely easy to see why. The film is centered around Stewart, who plays Maureen Cartwright, a personal shopper to a famous model in Paris. Whilst this is her main duty, we also find out that Maureen is a medium and is staying in the house where her twin brother passed away. She’s trying to find out what happened to her brother and in the process, gets ensnared in a murder mystery at the same time.
If both of those premises sound a bit confusing, then, sure, Personal Shopper will manage to elude you as much as it did myself. While there a variety of elements that are presented in the film, Assayas’ latest film felt like a multitude of ideas that were strung together on a piece of yarn. While many of them slightly interesting, none of them fully coincide to anything truly meaningful. Another aspect of the film that’s extremely obtuse is the performance of Kristen Stewart as Maureen. Her deadpan delivery and banal acting never offer any true insight to her character or what she’s doing in the film at all. There are a few moments where Stewart is genuinely attempting to have the audience gravitate towards her performance. There’s a point in the film where she’s being haunted by a specter or a real person via text. One of the first interactions with these texts visibly shows her frightened and for a split second, I actually believed it. These games, however, go on for far too long and by the time we actually get to a true understanding of who’s actually behind the texts, our attachment to the fear held over her and her reactions are lost.
Another aspect of the film that was extremely puzzling was how Assayas used Stewart in the role. While there have been plenty of times where filmmakers have utilized their “muse” so to speak, but the Stewart/Assayas relationship in this film is truly bizarre. The way that Assayas and his cinematographer, the always brilliant Yorick Le Saux, capture Stewart’s performance is as if she’s a real life Barbie doll. She hops in and out of haute couture, yet the camera lingers on every zipper, every slip on or slip off, to just illustrate how much Stewart and Assayas are bringing to both the character and their film. While this level of trust is wonderful for filmmaking, I was just constantly trying to understand as to why. Sure, we learn an assortment of details about Maureen, her relationship issues, her familial issues and even her desires but there’s no connective tissue strong enough to tie everything together with a performance given like this.
While this may showcase how much Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart loved working on Personal Shopper together, but I was left unfulfilled and often questioning as to why the film was less than the sum of its parts.