Written and directed by Olivier Assayas (2016)
Much has been made in the publicity for this horror-paranormal-suspense-thingie of the haute couture clothes which Maureen (Kristen Stewart) buys for her employer, but is ‘forbidden’ from trying on herself. Naturally she tries them on, but unhappily they are too few, rather dull and Kristen wears them with her usual aplomb. If you like watching Kristen Stewart clump around sullenly in designer clothes, you’d be better off watching the Oscars. Maureen has a job – God knows why – selecting clothes for a vaguely-defined celebrity, Kyra (an underused Nora von Waldstätten). We’re confused. Why does a stylist get around in horrible grey rags when not being all naughty and trying on Kyra’s gear? There must be a reason. Oh yes – she’s depressed.
Maureen’s vaguely-defined twin brother has recently died from a congenital heart condition which they share. He was a ‘medium’ (psychic occupation, not Loboutin size) and the twins agreed that the first to die would attempt to contact the other from the afterlife. Maureen explains the pact very carefully to Kyra’s boyfriend Ingo (an underused Lars Eidinger) and the brother’s widow’s new boyfriend (Someone Someone who is only there to help the audience be explained at). Naturally Maureen sleeps out in her brother’s old house – yes – a big dark empty mansion – waiting for a Sign. There are many possible Signs. Water is involved. Ectoplasm. Doors slam. Floors creak. We at The Varnished Culture would just like to know why the dead guy doesn’t send a Sign to tell his sister that riding a motor bike around Paris carrying large, boldly marked ‘Cartier’ and ‘Chanel’ bags on your handlebars is not a good idea?
From the reviews, we had expected something like the wonderful “Hidden”, but Personal Shopper isn’t a bit like that. It’s a bit like “When A Stranger Calls” and a bit like “Frantic” and a lot like “Black Swan” (watch these excellent films instead*). It’s a bit like “The Babadook” (don’t watch that – it’s godawful). (For a truly excellent horror-paranormal-suspense-thingie, watch “The Sixth Sense” or “The Others” or “The Box.”) Personal Shopper was booed at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and TVC can report that the two other viewers at the session we attended shot out through the doors the moment the final credits rolled. (Although that may have been because the four hundred safety lights required in every cinema had washed out all of the dark scenes to the point that these elderly ladies probably thought that there was a fire in the tunnel and they had better run).
Kristen Stewart is just the sad-sack for the role and full credit to her; she is excellent, despite being required to pull her horrible grey jumpers on and off to show us her sad sacky chest a bit too much. All of the performances are excellent (including Sigrid Bouaziz as Maureen’s sister-in-law, Lara) but this creaky old thing is empty, despite their presences.
There are some creepy and curious moments, but they go nowhere. Who is sending Maureen irritating texts (irritating to the audience, anyway. Audiences know about mobile phones these days)? What’s all this about the missing leather trousers? Why does Maureen’s Skype boyfriend bookend the story? Why is that door all red and pulsating? Why is a Something angry? What happens in the hotel room? Is that The Invisible Man in the elevator? Is that a reflection in the window? Is that a beaker I see before me? Is Maureen bonkers? These horror movie tropes do not work beyond the moment in Personal Shopper because there is nothing beyond the moment. They are ultimately not ‘enigmatic” or ‘mysterious’, because there is nothing behind or beyond them. Personal Shopper will have no afterlife.