This film won the Best Director Prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival for Olivier Assayas, the internationally-acclaimed director of Clouds of Sils Maria and Summer Hours. He returns with this ethereal and mysterious ghost story, which he wrote for Kristen Stewart, his muse. She plays a high-fashion personal shopper to the stars who is also a spiritual medium. Grieving the recent death of her twin brother, she haunts his Paris home, determined to make contact with him.
The boldest decision by Assayas is to juxtapose this spiritual, metaphysical theme, which unfolds in a muted, dusky half-light, with the stridently superficial world in which Maureen works. She is a personal shopper for a pampered, high-profile celebrity; her job entails wrangling craven fashion houses desperate to get their frocks in front of the cameras that follow her boss.
The genius of Kirsten Stewart as an actor, and the thing that often makes her difficult to write about, is a quicksilver quality. We are in no doubt while watching that she is delivering an extraordinary performance, but it’s often incredibly difficult to tease out just what it was that made it great. In the case of Olivier Assayas’s fascinating supernatural drama, the key is in the tiny, unassuming details. Stewart delivers a career-best interpretation of a young woman who finds herself in a purgatory of grief following the death of her twin brother.
For convenience’s sake, you could call Personal Shopper a ghost story – and there really are ghosts in it; billowing ectoplasmic forms in the style of Victorian spirit photography. But it’s less a scary movie than a film about fear – the way it finds our weak spots then gnaws away at them, until a rational worry becomes formless dread.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall