'Personal Shopper' questions grief and ghosts
By Diane Carson
In Paris, Maureen is a "Personal Shopper," as the film's title announces. She works for a disagreeable, wealthy celebrity client, but in fact she's waiting for some unknown sign from Lewis, her twin brother, known as a medium. Lewis died three months ago from a heart malformation that, quite symbolically, Maureen also exhibits.
Without revealing any essential information, as events develop Maureen will both look for, puzzle over, and distrust possible contact from Lewis. During her exploration, Maureen receives strings of text messages from a mysterious and potentially threatening source, clashes with her employer and deliberately breaks some of their agreements. At the home they shared, Maureen will show sympathy to Lara, Lewis' former girlfriend, as inexplicable incidents intensify.
As Kristen Stewart, who plays Maureen, states in press notes, "The film also asks what, in my opinion, is the most terrifying question in life; 'Am I completely alone, or can I truly enter into contact with someone else?'" This extends to other people in the room for Maureen, not just the other world. Maureen is alone in many scenes and feels isolated even when she's in the company of others. She is assuredly a personal shopper who is trying on others' clothes in a search for herself, adrift since Lewis' death. Her world has been fractured, and the narrative reflects this disjointed and unsettling theme. In today's world, it's easy to identify with a fragmented life, and the film makes no effort to unify events. As Maureen rushes about Paris on her motor scooter, travels to London on a fast train, or even wanders through large homes or apartments, she hurries but seems never to arrive.
Writer/director Olivier Assayas demonstrated his ability to elicit a nuanced performance from Kristen Stewart in Clouds of Sils Maria. He again teases out her range of emotions, though she remains occasionally too emotionally and physically stiff when it does and doesn't fit the character. Nevertheless, Personal Shopper makes a powerful statement that, as Stewart says about Maureen, "We're all in our own world, completely absorbed . . . without ever experiencing even the slightest pleasure." It's a film capturing our time. Assayas won the Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival for Personal Shopper. Primarily in English with some French with English subtitles. At Landmark's Plaza Frontenac Theatre.