FNE at Cannes 2016: Review: Personal Shopper


CANNES:Celebrity and actress Kristen Stewart must enjoy the irony of playing a much beleaguered celebrity slave as she has taken on the job once again for her role in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper

Stewart won a Cesar in 2014 for her role of a celebrity slave  to Juliette Binoche in Clouds of Sils Maria directed by Assayas.  Now she is back in Cannes cast again as a personal assistant to a celebrity by Assayas but in a wildly different kind of film.

Stewart plays Maureen, an American in her mid-20s, who has a job as a personal shopper in Paris that for many would be a dream job.  She scoots around Paris on a motorcycle choosing clothes for her celebrity boss Krya played by Nora von Waldstatten at all the top haute couture shops.  There are even trips to London via the Channel Tunnel.  Even with the down time of looking after Kyra’s wardrobe it beats working in a call centre or at MacDonald’s you might say but Maureen is bored and hates her job and disrespects her boss.

Maureen has not come to Paris to absorb culture or for the love of fashion.  She needs a job  so she can stay in Paris and wait for a message from her twin brother Lewis who died in Paris a few months earlier and promised to send her a message from beyond the grave. Presumably location matters.

But Maureen is not just waiting for spiritual enlightenment from her brother.  She is also undergoing a spiritual crisis in her own life and looking for her own identity now that her brother is gone.  She is also a medium and we see her at the beginning of the film in a large and spooky old house where her brother died.  His former girlfriend Laura played by Sigrid Bouaziz encourages Maureen’s belief that she can detest his presence.  Assayas confirms the existence of the supernatural when we see a ghost in the corner of the room even though Maureen does not.

Back in Paris and bored Maureen goes through the daily routines of looking after Kyra and her clothes.  She feels that she detects some presence from another world but she cannot define or connect to it.  When the message finally does arrive the ghost chooses to text her on her mobile phone.  Not exactly the stuff of haunted houses.  There follows a really over-long scene where we watch Maureen texting for 20 minutes making us wish for a less modern spook.

The French are great filmmakers but not much known for ghost movies nor does the genre often unspool in competition in Cannes.  But Assayas has never been deterred by convention and Personal Shopper bends genres and mixes the intellectual with the mundane. You certainly have never seen a ghost story quite like this one.  He as done just as much to turn the ghost story on its head as he did for the vampire movie with his Irma Vep 20 years ago. Assayas has scripted as well as directed the film and this is truly a master at work. The film reaches not only beyond the grave but beyond the usually shallow storyline of the genre. 

Personal Shopper (France, Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic)
Directed by Olivier Assayas
Produced by Vortex Sutra
Coproduced by Scope Pictures, Detail Film, Scope Invest, Sirena Film, Arte France Cinema, CG Cinema
Supported by the State Cinematography Fund Czech Republic

Cast: Kristen Steward, Lars Eedinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Nora Von Waldstatten, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Pascal Rambert, Audrey Bonnet