31 December 2020

Olivier Assayas's Personal Shopper (2017)


The title of an article in the Los Angeles Times's 11 March 2017 is 'Director Olivier Assayas’ films are obsessed with public image and female celebrity, including his latest, "Personal Shopper"'. Most of this film revolves around Maureen (Kristen Stewart), who is a 'personal shopper', meaning that she buys goods for rich customers who don't have the time or effort to do so themselves. She works for Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) in Paris, and of whom we (and Maureen) see virtually nothing, which is partly why she is so pissed off.

But Maureen had a twin brother (Lewis), who died of a heart defect that she may or may not have too. But Lewis was a medium, and Maureen (neither a believer nor a disbeliever in the paranormal) feels that he may have left his presence in his home in the Parisian area where he lived with his partner Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz). She spends some days in the house and sees the angry ghost of a woman who spews out ectoplasm, and then goes. Perhaps that's the end of the problems.

But as Maureen embarks on a vicarious shopping spree for Kyra, visiting London by train, she gets a constant flood of texts from an unknown person, and suspects that that person is the spirit of Lewis. The viewer is somewhat less believing, realising that there is an unknown problem here, and that Maureen is perhaps leading herself into a kind of adolescent trap that most women would have worked out beforehand: a ghost who can not only text but you can see taking time to text? Nah.

In the end it's proved (or is it?) to be the married Kyra's lover (but only for sex(?)) Ingo (Lars Eidinger) who's been sending the texts, and who murders Kyra. And as Maureen leaves Paris to join her boyfriend (who's been working in Muscat, Oman) in the mountains, why is it that an empty glass in the primitive holiday home moves by itself and then crashes? Real, imagined or poltergeist? As Kristen Stewart herself says: 'There is this default reality that we all agree to live in with each other; [Maureen] is not in it at all.' She says that her character is the loneliest person she's ever played.

In the film, there are two specific people mentioned in relation to the paranormal: the female Swedish painter and theosophist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), a pioneer of abstract art; she was interested in the paranormal, taking part in and organising spiritualist sessions; some of her abstract paintings, examples of automatic art, were made in a state of semi-trance. Victor Hugo (1802-85) is also mentioned (and played by Benjamin Biolay!): Hugo was exiled in Jersey from 1853-4 and tried (in table-turning sessions) to make contact with the his daughter Léopoldine Vacquerie (1824-43), who drowned at Villequier at the age of nineteen.

This French film is in English, although there are insignificant short scenes in (unsubtitled) French and German. All the same, in any language it pays to watch this brilliant and deliberately irresoluts  film more than once.

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