Cinematic Releases: Personal Shopper (2017) - Reviewed

Are we defined by our loved ones or by how we interpret those connections? Does the death of a sibling redefine the relationship through latent memories or through how we handle the aftermath Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper is an enigmatic story about love, loss, and the mortal danger of obsession eclipsing the importance of living one’s life. From its terrifying opening frames to its elusive narrative, this is an old school thriller with a haunting psychological undercurrent that explores the nature of identity and perception. 

Maureen is a psychic medium desperately seeking a sign from her recently deceased twin brother. She spends her nights searching his abandoned estate and her days working as a personal shopper for a celebrity to make ends meet. Kristen Stewart gives the performance of her career in this role. It has every element you would expect: She uses a variety of facial cues to communicate a depth of emotional duress, she delivers dialogue with a bereaved candor that is beautifully understated, and she fully commits to Assayas' hypnotic world of glitz and uncertainty, where even her character’s physical heart is linked to her deceased counterpart. However, it is in her shame that she truly shines. Maureen is the embodiment of grief and the struggle between emotional growth in the wake of a tragedy and the soul's inability to move beyond the loss. Maureen faces ectoplasmic terrors night after night in her familial sojourn, rather than face the horrors of moving on and the realities of such a decision. She longs to be with her long distance boyfriend and yet remains loyal to her demeaning job. She becomes a living ghost, haunting her employer's closet and sinister hotel rooms while adorned in forbidden ensembles of the damned, culminating in a remarkable sequence in which Maureen’s secret indulgence becomes symbolic of her first steps towards the healing of a complicated spiritual wound.

Yorick Le Saux's cinematography uses long, uncharacteristically stressful takes during the initial haunting sequences to supplant the viewer’s safety with Stewart’s urgency. The entire first act serves as a visual foray into Maureen's broken heart. She wanders endlessly from darkened room to room chasing shadows and sounds that even the viewer is not sure are real. The daytime sequences of Paris are soaked in a subdued palette, yet another signifier of Maureen's trapped existence, with the only glimmers of freedom coming from her celebrity's diamond laced accoutrements and ruby red bloodstains that transition the film into its final, mysterious act. Assayas takes opposing genres and concepts, such as horror, mystery, and drama and finds a gentle sense of harmony that ultimately becomes a somber meditation on grief. A murder mystery, increasingly disturbing texts from the (possibly) beyond, and Maureen's inner turmoil converge during an intricately detailed climax before returning to their various corners, leaving the protagonist’s ordeal at the center, raw and exposed, a feat made possible by an actress who will be regarded as one of the greats of her generation. 

I'm not shopping for vampires anymore

Coming soon to digital rental, Personal Shopper is 2017's first masterpiece. Assayas makes it clear from the beginning that this is more about the journey than the destination, using creepy compositions and exceptional camera play to create an inverted scary story about the terrors of confronting oneself amidst unyielding melancholy. Blissfully sidestepping all forms of narrative convention, Personal Shopper delivers a one of a kind cinematic experience, anchored firmly by Stewart's singular performance.

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-Kyle Jonathan