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Stepping out of the shadow of a role that has come to define an actor has long been one of the more challenging aspects in any actor’s career, especially if they are in fact looking to distance themselves from the past. Kristen Stewart, who has time and time again proven herself a remarkable acting force continues to separate herself from the young adult Twilight series, and while many try to keep her clinging to the franchise, she herself puts gaps of great expanse between them and what she does now.
There is a lingering somberness about Stewart that she applies often to her films, one that many use as a source of parody for her vampire movies, but in others has become signature to her roles. It’s a weight she wears about her shoulders and over her eyes that seems like a burden and when drawn as traits to many of her on-screen characters, gives her surprising authenticity. With Personal Shopper, that weight is heaviest and Stewart finds startling ways in which to lure us into her darkness.
She plays Maureen, a personal shopper for a huge international film star named Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). She hates the work, the banality and emptiness and tedium of searching for clothes that keeps her from the more interesting things she wants to pursue, such as her art. Her twin brother recently died of a shared heart condition and the two made a pact that the first one who passed would attempt to reach out to the other. This keeps her in Paris, in the home where her brother died as she waits for a sign, one that seems to come in haunting imagery and more so, a number of increasingly disconcerting text messages sent from someone unknown.
Written and directed by Olivier Assayas, who claims he wrote the script with Stewart in mind, having worked with her earlier in Clouds Of Sils Maria (2014), Personal Shopper is not what it may look like, especially after the opening moments that begin with Maureen in the house where her brother Lewis died, setting up ghostly expectations before shifting us to Maureen’s real haunted life, so to speak, where she attends to Kyra’s needs, even though she is almost never with her, a ghost in most respects. That’s not to say there aren’t moments of traditional ghost story frights, as it does seem that Maureen makes contact with the other side as it were, but whether it is Lewis, or someone or something much darker is the question.
Stewart is in nearly every frame of the movie, and while much of the film has her silent, moving about various rooms and streets, she is never really a part of them, her body itself like an apparition, head down reading and responding to text messages, searching for fashion and accessories, living a hollow life in search of what lies beyond. What Stewart manages to press out of this is fairly remarkable, a performance that is tempting to call her finest yet, if not most challenging. She strips clean–for those attentive to her work–criticisms of her acting style, giving a complex and even disturbing turn in a film that is purposefully paced and simmering, caustically building to its finale.
Assayas takes to the theme with special care and like the corporeal aspects of the story, slowly dissipates bits of the narrative the closer to the end we get, leaving visuals that are meant to spark questions and dialogue that layers gaps rather than fill them. It’s a beautiful and haunting experience, but no matter the look, it is Stewart that grips, making Personal Shopper a powerful film that won’t be for everyone but nonetheless should be seen.
Movie description: Personal Shopper is a 2017 dramatic thriller about a young woman working as a personal shopper who becomes convinced she in contact with her deceased twin brother.
Director(s): Olivier Assayas
Actor(s): Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz
Genre: Thriller, Drama