After her acclaimed turn in Oliver Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria (for which she became the first American actress to win a César Award), Kristen Stewart continues to make waves in indie and arthouse cinema and picks one interesting and surprising role after another. Now Stewart reunites with Assayas once again for the unique and original Personal Shopper, a tale that is an intriguing mixture of horror, fashion, grief, sexuality, and spirituality.
Stewart stars as Maureen, a sullen and lonely personal shopper to a difficult model in Paris, leading a hectic lifestyle amidst the glamour of couture gowns and department stores. Maureen is distracted, however, by the recent death of her twin brother, Lewis, who like Maureen had the gift to make contact with the dead, and who once promised to make contact with his sister if he passed away before her. Maureen waits for a sign from her brother, even neglecting her long distance romantic relationship, but danger lurks among the living and the dead.
Assayas creates an utterly gripping and unpredictable pastiche of genre conventions and tones. From the examination of the shallowness of the fashion world and draw of its beauty, the eroticism of danger and darkness, to some incredibly terrifying sequences that explore spirituality and the occult, Assayas has all these threads working to compliment each other despite abrupt changes in execution. The depiction and discussion around spirits and mediums may seem rather simplistic, but the execution of these dark sequences create an immense sense of dread and eeriness. In fact, Assayas' unpredictable segueways into different tones are so swift it is impossible to not be swept along. Modern technology is also used to incredibly interesting effect in these rather gothic or classic Hitchockian sequences. One particular scene is memorable, with the endless streams of messages from unidentified stalker that builds and builds to a climax almost reminiscent of something from a Patricia Highsmith novel or Rear Window.
The film for all its interesting style and intertextuality, remains indebted to Stewart's terrific central performance. The initial scenes show something of typical Stewart fare - quiet, glum and anxious - but she delivers terrific naturalistic vulnerability which grounds the film in reality, whilst also providing a dynamic blank canvas for Assayas to work; specifically within the scenes examining Maureen's exploration of femininity and forbidden desire. Stewart is also effortlessly cool, comfortable here in the grunge chic she is known for, but also the luxury fashion her character uses to explore her sense of identity. Maureen's grief, confusion and isolation amongst materialism and tech could be seen as an allegory for the modern twentysomething, or perhaps as a dark character study of a woman unable to move on and define herself as an individual. Stewart has once more outdone herself, and shows, once again, to be perfect for European and indie cinema.
The ambiguities and abstract nature of many of the sequences are so well handled by Stewart and Assayas that they intrigue rather than frustrate, but the final moment of the film ensures that it is, ultimately, a highly satisfying and conclusory regardless of the more art-house leanings. Exemplary work from two ideal cinematic partners.