“Personal Shopper”

 

            French Director and screenwriter Olivier Assayas is providing the viewer with several different layers in this quiet little film called “Personal Shopper.”  Kristen Stewart plays Maureen Cartwright, “an American in Paris” who's waiting for something to happen to her.  Literally.

            It seems her twin brother, recently deceased, made a pact with Maureen:  the first one to die is to come back and give a sign to the other, if indeed there is an afterlife.  They're both mediums, and they both had congential heart conditions:  Maureen, of course, still lives with hers, but tentatively, as if she's already resigned herself to a sort of shadowy existence on the fringe of living.  She doesn't seem to have any friends, other than occasional contact with her former sister-in-law, the widow of her brother, who seems quite ready to begin moving on with her life, though Maureen clearly isn't. 

            Maureen's taken a job as a “personal shopper” for a shadowy, mostly-absent French celebrity (we never know exactly the nature of her stardom).  Maureen buys dresses and jewelry at the fanciest places in Paris, then takes off with these shopping bags from very exclusive stores on her little motor bike, scooting through busy streets until she's back in her old house, where she and her brother had lived, still listening for signs “from beyond.”

            Then we take a left turn and get into the “ghost story” aspect, which, it turns out, is not a message from her twin brother at all, but her openness to the paranormal makes her hear certain “vibes” or sense some kind of “presence.”  Mr. Assayas is not that interested in scaring the viewers---not with typically loud noises or things that suddenly jump out at you.  But he is interested in exploring the darker recesses of Maureen's character, where her self-doubt lives.  She's alternately scared and bored.  She seems unaffected by anything, and yet she's willing to do something impulsive as a response to a dare from a mysterious anonymous texter.  Like try on the expensive dresses and shoes which she's supposedly forbidden to wear.

            Kristen Stewart parlays her casual, non-affect, no-makeup self into a brooding enigma unable to decide what she believes, or even what she thinks she wants.  So we're not surprised when things happen to her while she's distracted by something else. 

            The consideration of “the afterlife” certainly doesn't reflect traditional religion, or even formulaic ghost stories.  It's not a “spirituality” so much as it is an admission that there are certain realties beyond the senses, and there aren't really any guidebooks in getting yourself there.  Watching this film is agreeing to meander with Maureen for a while, and see if it goes anywhere surprising.

 

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  What's your view of the afterlife?

2)                  Is it possible that contact could be made with deceased persons?

3)                  What's the one job that you consider involves the least amount of actual work?

 

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association