Personal Shopper, written and directed by Olivier Assayas, is a film that was forever evolving. I didn’t know where this film was going to take me next, but where ever it was, I wanted to follow it there. Watching it was one of those hypnotising experiences that films can cause every so often, where you get lost in everything about the film, and you just let it take you away. I’m left with questions and I’m left with much to process – to think over. Part of that processing is actually through this review that I’m about to write. So, let’s get into that and find out what exactly it is about this film that I found to be so affecting.
Maureen Cartwright – played by Kristen Stewart – feels trapped. The recent death of her brother causes her to feel that she can’t leave Paris until she has made one last effort to communicate with him. But she also has her everyday life to lead, and that everyday life soon becomes complicated when a mysterious person begins to seemingly mess with her head. Maureen’s life begins to spiral out of control and she might not be able to right it again.
At the centre of this film is a genuinely fascinating character. Maureen is someone who leads a diverse and ever-developing life. Being a personal shopper for a rich, unlikable superstar. Being interested in the occult which also plays into her wanting to contact her brother from beyond the grave, and just generally the life she leads around Paris. There was always something new to her and I was at all times interested to see how it fed into the greater film.
I went into this film expecting a particular experience – mainly because I had seen Olivier Assayas previous film, Clouds of Sils Maria and thought I had a pretty good handle on the type of film he was going to deliver with Personal Shopper. My assumptions were well off and I’m thankful they were. I personally wasn’t a fan of Clouds of Sils Maria, finding it to be slow and deliberately snooty; never offering anything of real substance or note. That is absolutely not the case for Personal Shopper.
The film was continually surprising me; pulling me in deeper with each new plot point or character revelation. I never knew where it might go next or what curveball it may throw my way. And that makes for a film watching experience that can be addicting. In fact, I know it was addicting, because I was completely hooked to this film and never wanted to turn away from it.
It is a film that elicits so many emotions. At one point, I was on edge; scared of what thing was maybe in the house with Maureen. Other points I was tense, as the person who was seemingly stalking her seemed to be getting closer. Or I was simply seduced by a character who was freeing herself from the chains she had put herself in, and was living life how she wanted to, at that moment. It was an experience that was at all times changing and it was doing it in a way that balanced out with what had come in the film already and I simply wanted more.
It’s odd for me to talk about this film because of the unusual way in which I reacted and felt when watching it. I at times didn’t feel like a passive watcher just looking at a screen. There were moments where I felt like I was there in the room, as an invited observer of everything that was happening. I suppose like one of the spirits that Maureen could possibly come into contact with. I know it sounds strange, but for me that’s what it felt like sometimes. I just really became enveloped by this film.
It may have something to do with the way in which the camera is used within the film. Primarily being handheld and having this floaty feeling throughout the scene, as if we the audience are floating there in the room, observing what it is that Maureen is doing. There is just this overpowering feeling to the film; one that took a hold of me for sure.
I feel that the only thing that sometimes held the film back was Kristen Stewart’s performance. At points, she fully became the character and I saw no one but Maureen. And at other times it was as if Stewart was scared to fully commit to the moment, making it difficult to see anyone but her. I’m not someone who is on the Kristen Stewart hate train like many others are. I have enjoyed plenty of films in which she has starred in (Still Alice or Camp X-Ray being examples). So, for me it was sometimes a little disappointing when she would slip out of being Maureen and lose the identity of the character. It wasn’t a problem that was there all the time, but I certainly noticed it enough to where I’m now writing about it here.
But still, Maureen was the centre of this film, and her and her life was the constant thing that was fuelling it – making for something truly enthralling thing to be a part of and watch. The story of the film wouldn’t have existed without her and that story is layered, yet balanced in a way that it never steps on its own toes; ruining a particular plot point over another.
Personal Shopper continually builds upon what it previously introduced and is always adding new things to the mix. This keeps you alert to what is happening and you never have to worry about the film slowing down or losing your attention.
And from a structuring standpoint the film does something really interesting (and smart). It feeds you a story in the background. One that isn’t at the time connected to Maureen or her life, but still something you need to be aware of for later. Which meant that the focus was never pulled away from Maureen. We did not step away from her story so that the film could set something else up. It just delivered it to us within the surroundings of Maureen. Meaning we are aware of it but are not beaten over the head with it. And so then when the time is right, it unfolds this overarching development that could now be the downfall of the character. It is incredibly smart writing/directing and the way in which it is executed means you don’t even realise it to be something until all the pieces have fallen into place – almost like an elaborate trick.
Personal Shopper was one of those films that completely surprised me and had me hooked at every moment. After finishing this film, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It has left its indentation in my brain and it had fully achieved at everything it set out to do. It was a film that I couldn’t look away from, simply because I never wanted too. And so when it began to wrap up and the end was near, I found myself not wanting it to finish. I had become so entrenched in the film and Maureen, that I wanted to continue to be a part of her story. I think that says a lot about how much I enjoyed this film and the effect that it had on me.
There’s no doubt about it, I am recommending Personal Shopper. This was a film that continually bettered itself and never sacrificed what was good about it, for conventional storytelling. It was utterly sublime and perhaps one of my favourite films I have watched in 2017 (so far).
I would absolutely love to know what you thought of the film and my review. So please leave any opinions, feedback etc. in the comments down below. Feel free to follow my blog directly and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings – as it helps to grow awareness for it. All that’s left to say is thank you for taking the time to read my review and I hope you return to read more of my writing.