It's almost impossible in 2017 to walk into a movie without knowing what to expect. With the advent of Rotten Tomatoes and film trailers coming out six months before the film is released, catching a movie in the theaters is mostly just checking off a list of things we remember from the previews. That's one of the reasons why supporting independent films can be such a joy, since most of the time we go into them not knowing what to expect.
What little I had read about "Personal Shopper" made the film sound like a pretentious and slow-moving drama. Instead, director Olivier Assayas has crafted something spellbinding and complicated; a film more interested in the layers of grief and what happens after we die than in telling another hyperbolic independent navel gazer.
Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a personal shopper for an extremely wealthy celebrity in Paris. Some days she travels to London by train just to shop for jewelry for her demanding client. Her fraternal twin brother recently died of a genetic heart problem they both share. The twins believed they also shared a connection to the spirit world, and Maureen's brother promised he would make contact following his death. At night, she wanders around her brother's massive country estate calling his name in the dark, hoping for a sign.
With this film, Kristen Stewart once again proves her talent as an actress, further distancing herself from the days of "Twilight." Segments of the film are spent simply watching Stewart texting on her phone, yet she's always arresting and fascinating. There's a naturalism to her work that is downright uncanny. When she starts receiving creepy and demanding texts leading her throughout Paris, it's just as easy to believe she's following the commands of a ghost as it is to imagine a stalker playing with her mind.
That's one of the most invigorating things about "Personal Shopper" — the film is so elegantly constructed that the storyline could easily be supernatural or based solely in the real world. Reality is hazy and every moment of the movie is infused with a dream-like quality that's at times heart-pounding, but always captivating. It's rare to describe a film this intoxicating, but when one moment of the movie makes you jump while the next breaks your heart, it's easy to get a little drunk on the power of cinema.
"Personal Shopper" won't be for everyone. There are no easy answers and certain aspects of the story are left to the viewer's own interpretation, but this is the kind of movie that begs for sitting around, discussing plot points for hours over tall cups of coffee. This is cinema at its most complex and aggravating, at its most beautiful and intense. It's a look at a life surrounded by death, and the highlight of the year so far.
Dir. Olivier Assayas
Sisters Movie House