French filmmaker Olivier Assayas has entered into a fruitful collaboration with Kristen Stewart, showcasing the former Twilight star in entirely new and refreshing ways.
Stewart’s talent has never been in question – she commanded attention as a child in Panic Room, and in indies like Into the Wild and Adventureland, while also cavorting with sparkly vampires in the blockbuster young adult franchise.
It seems almost a Twilight rebellion for Stewart to retreat into indie and foreign films, but it’s a richly welcomed one.
Assayas seems to intrinsically understand and capture the essence of K-Stew. She won a Cesar (French Oscar) for her co-starring role in Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, as Juliette Binoche’s frazzled assistant tending to her boss while rambling about in a remote Swiss rental home.
There are some parallels between that film and their second collaboration, but this time Stewart is not sharing the screen, as Assayas channels notions of grief and spirituality through her singular brand of tousled ennui.
In Personal Shopper, Stewart plays, well, a personal shopper. Her character, Maureen, works for a Scandinavian actress, Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten) in Paris, picking up and delivering clothing and accessories, an easy enough gig to serve her purpose for being there.
By day, Maureen fingers and frets over luxurious couture garments and jewellery for someone else to wear; by night she attempts to contact the spirit of her twin brother Louis, who died of a heart attack. She claims they are both mediums, and she’s waiting for a sign, any sign, from him so that she can move on.
The opening scene of Sils Maria featured Stewart futzing with an Apple product while on a train; in Shopper, Assayas makes that the film’s centrepiece.
During a day trip to England to pick up gowns, Maureen receives a series of troubling text messages from an unknown number, claiming to be watching her, probing into her personal secrets.
She’s at once terrified and drawn to the confessional interactions, but the menacing tone is undeniable. Is it Louis, texting from the beyond, or someone or something more sinister?
There’s a meditative quality to the film, as we watch Maureen go about her day-to-day activities, which admittedly are far from quotidian – picking up priceless Cartier jewelry, or spending the night in an empty house, encountering spectral presences.
In her performance, Stewart embodies an appealing sense of laissez-faire: messy hair rumpled just so, battered T-shirt hanging just right. Assayas builds hypnotic rhythms around simply watching her while she grabs an espresso or beer, admires the cut of a cocktail dress, slips into one of Kyra’s heels, drives her Vespa around town.
The film, though, is far from slow. The threatening messages escalate, as Maureen falls deeper into the hole of this interaction. There’s a catharsis in acquiescing to the texter’s requests, relinquishing control to this unknown force. The film slowly builds to a bloody climax, and Maureen is released from her spell.
If it sounds odd, it is, a little bit, but it’s utterly mesmerising with a mix of realism and spirituality that normalises the idea of ghosts and spirits among us in our daily lives.
But far more than that, Personal Shopper is a testament to Stewart who, in her magnetically naturalistic performance, not only proves her versatility, but cements a signature style inextricably linked to persona.