Personal Shopper

Rewatched: 14 January

This was my second viewing of Olivier Assayas’ eerie, unconventional ghost story, and it confirmed in my mind at least that Personal Shopper is one of 2017’s most intriguing releases, partly because of the way it leaves certain questions raised within the plot unanswered. Following grieving American-stylist-in-Paris Maureen (an enthralling, excellent central performance by Kristen Stewart as a character whose job necessitates being in the background, subserviently helping another), the film balances a mix of realism – scenes depict quotidian events like inter-city or cross-city travel, the installation of software updates for her employer, Skype conversations with friends and so on – with eerie, threatening and supernatural elements. The catalyst is the (unseen) death of Maureen’s brother, and there is a sense that this has unlocked within her some kind of latent potential to communicate with or understand the spirit world… or it’s possible that the things she experiences may simply be in her own head, perhaps caused by grief or an overwhelming desire to have just one more chat with a deceased loved one. Wedded to this is the film’s sketch of a murder mystery; a key sequence involving a series of creepy phone messages – which happens to be one of my favourite cinematic passages of last year – ties everything together very well indeed. Are these unsettling, intrusive texts coming from the real world or some kind of spirit realm… and if these can be considered as ‘realities’ for Maureen, which is the more frightening of the two? Some believe Assayas answers these questions, as well as others that the story posits, but after two viewings I’m still left unsure as to what to think about Maureen’s state of mind, and everything that we see her experiencing. That ambiguity is something I like very much. There’s also a pervading coldness and an unrelenting sense of dread throughout that may be typical of recent north European arthouse cinema, but it’s incredibly well-realised nonetheless and seems apt for such an unconventional, modern horror. (****½)