Atlantic Film Fest: Personal Shopper

Personal Shopper is introspective and haunting with no surplus of drama or horror. French writer/director, Olivier Assayas, presents an intricate yet ambiguous story of identity and grief.

The story follows Maureen (Kristen Stewart), an American working in Paris as a personal shopper for a high-profile celebrity. Early on, Maureen identifies as a medium. She is living in Paris in an attempt to communicate with her twin brother, who died unexpectedly from a mutual heart condition. (It’s unclear if she lived in Paris prior to his death.) Maureen states she doesn’t like her job and that it takes away from what she really should be doing.

Intimacy with Maureen is established through sound and nudity. Throughout the film, the microphone is so close to her body that we can hear every sniffle, breath, and shift of tongue. Further intimacy is created when we see Maureen topless in two scenes, neither of which are inherently sexual. First, we see her topless for an ultrasound, and later as she tries on her boss’ designer clothing (a ‘forbidden’ act). The latter scene is sexualized within context. Maureen is tempted to try on the clothes by a stranger that has been texting her, and she proceeds to masturbate in the clothing. This scene is effectively unsettling and out of character. Maureen expresses a momentary excitement for being a rule-breaker. These transgressive moments give her the opportunity to live as someone else, detached from her own suffering.

Despite the intimacy we have with Maureen, her experiences as a medium are inaccessible. Maureen doubts there is an afterlife, and admits she doesn’t understand the spirits she encounters—their connection to the living. Both mediums, Maureen and her brother, made a pact that whoever died first would send the other a sign. Months later, Maureen is still actively searching for his sign. As someone who is constantly making spiritual connections, but unable to reach her brother, it’s hard for her to reconcile his absence. Holes in the story mirror the gaps in her spiritual experiences, sometimes blurring the line between what’s natural and supernatural. The film’s greatest layer is this level of mystery and suspense.

Not all pieces of the story are well-connected. The use of technology is gimmicky, and toward the end of the of the movie, there are a few scenes that stick out as awkward. Although the conclusion feels less composed, Stewart gives a strong performance, and Assayas tells an interesting, unpredictable story of a personal shopper.

Reviewed by: Cassie Guinan

Cassie GuinanFilm, AFF2016Comment