To describe Olivier Assayas’ slate, often times inscrutable Personal Shopper would be to hack into the growth rings of a perfectly opaque mystery. It would be unfair to the cold, cavernous ceilings and quaking winds of one of the most beguiling films in recent memory. The French director’s screenplay is a spinneret that weaves together fears of technology, death, and corporeal resignation. These three themes work together to create a tableau of uneasiness that permeates from every pore, tafetta, and dust particle of the film’s running-time.
Kristen Stewart is the perfect actor to play the title character: she makes good of her ability to mine, nonmaterially, into both faith and skepticism. Stewart’s character, Maureen, not only suffers from the aching imprints of weathered memories, but from the disembodied words and stinging subtext of her own personal desires. Few other performers can channel the inner oscillations of panic and manufactured fearlessness that Stewart does. There’s not one false note here. Not one broken string. The 26-year-old has become one of our most interesting and uncompromising artists. In manipulating the uncertainty, inner tumult, and heightened sense of dissonance in Maureen, Stewart carves out a model of all-too-real duress. The character is not only more fascinating, but so is the ringing discord of the world around her.
Personal Shopper nicks a match-head against gasoline doused restraint. Professionalism, mortality, and parapsychology become drawn shadows that cast themselves across walls.
By the end of Assayas’ deliberately inaccessible narrative – there are more plumes of smoke and rows of mirrors than there are answers – we feel tapped on the shoulder by wonder and terror. The hum and rumble of public transportation is an indifferent canvas to impalpible voices. The pulsing ellipsis of a text box is a hissing fuse. And the fragments of broken glass spell everything but certainty. Personal Shopper is perhaps inaccessible and caustically vague, but it’s also frightening and deathly urgent. Here is a filmmaker working in invisible ink and an actor that is willing to burn herself down to the filter. Go in with as little information and possible, and experience one of the most fascinating films of the past decade.