“Uncategorizable” is how the Guardian referred to ‘Personal Shopper’ after awarding it five stars. Time magazine also praised it for being a “strange and beautifully made film.” French film director Olivier Assayas won Best Director Award at the Cannes Film Festival last year. The official premiere there was received by an almost five minutes long standing ovation from the audience, despite having previously being booed for its ending at the initial screening. Part of the criticism it received had to do with people perceiving the trailer as misleading, portraying it as more of a scary film that what it actually is in the end. Others think that the film dabbles in too many different tones, not quite settling for one in specific, and that some of the occurrences seem unrelated to the plot. At ECU we think that you should still give the movie a chance for all of its other merits. The story does include a paranormal subtext, but it is mainly a film about dealing with grief and sorrow, and how this affects a person’s character and sense of identity.
The film follows the everyday life of Maureen (Kristen Stewart), who works as a personal shopper in Paris for a high profile celebrity. We soon learn that her twin brother, Lewis, passed away from a heart attack at the age of 27, and his death is the reason why the main character has taken the job. Both Maureen and her brother were mediums, and they had made a vow that whomever died first would try to contact the other from beyond. Maureen hates her job, but Paris is where her brother died, and she feels that this is where she should stay in order to give her deceased brother a chance to contact her. By the time the film starts three months have passed since Lewis death, and Maureen is still in grieving. Her misery is reflected in her seeming disinterest in the world around her, and her only pleasure appears to come from engaging in ‘forbidden’ activities. This leads the character to engage in silly rebellious acts such as trying on her boss’ clothes when she is out of town, simply because it is impermissible.
One interesting aspect of the film is the role of texts in the plot development. We see the protagonist constantly texting, but only because it is necessary to the progression of the narrative. The pace of the film can also at times feel unnecessary slow, with empty background shots when we await a character’s entrance. At the same time, the timing matches the emotional state of Maureen, who is still mourning and therefore not vivacious in her demeanor. The movie at times reminds us of Mother! as we have constant solo shots of the main actress. In these solitary frames we realize that this is also a film about loneliness, and about someone who is at times more interested in the dead than the living. Maureen is also in a long distance relationship with her boyfriend who is working in Omar, and besides a few Skype calls with him we mostly see her interacting with people that were somehow related to her twin brother’s life. The final product is a very humane representation of what it feels to lose a loved one, as hinted by the details of an individual’s mundane life.