Cannes 2016: Personal Shopper

I covered Cannes Film Festival this year, and I will be posting my reviews on here weekly. My pieces are on a website known as The Upcoming and have been published in something called Swipe magazine.

Olivier Assayas has delivered a fundamentally strange, disquieting picture. Personal Shopper is neither truly horror nor thriller but Assayas creates an unaffected and consuming sense of unease that provokes and beguiles. It was booed at the Cannes opening screening. Kristen Stewart confidently dominates almost every frame as Maureen, the supermodel’s assistant torn between leaving Paris due to a job she hates and staying to exorcise – or come to peace with – the spirit of her recently deceased twin brother.

Maureen spends her time shopping for expensive clothes, jewellery and accessories for the demanding, generally ignorant Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten); this while attempting to contact her twin Lewis in their dilapidated childhood home. The grand house has all the familiar features of the gothic: large palatial rooms, winding staircases and antiquated furniture. Maureen’s modest attempts at séance are not overplayed, however, and reap results that are frightening and ambiguous. In the earthly world she meets Ingo (Lars Eidinger), Kyra’s recently spurned lover. He suggests Maureen work at Berlin Vogue. “That’s not me,” she understates. Maureen is waiting for her brother: one thump, sometimes two, depending on the question. Meanwhile, a mystery number texts her incessantly, leading her to respond to a set of increasingly cryptic demands. She is half-horrified, half-fascinated, all while traversing the liminal space between the fashion centres of Paris and London.

Personal Shopper is a complete oddity, and the better for it. Maureen is constantly conflicted: she is no new-age spiritual medium nor a cold-eyed realist. Assayas uses computer-generated effects sparingly, and the things that go bump are endowed with meaning rather than simple scare factor. The persistent depiction of smartphones and laptop screens becomes somewhat tiring, but the French auteur deserves credit for embracing the omnipresence of modern technology. Omitting these extended scenes would have been a loss, ultimately. The plot is patently ludicrous at times – the police seem to be slightly lenient addressing a major criminal case, for example – but the film is deliberately opaque in a way that intrigues rather than infuriates.

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Published by

Joseph Owen

PhD, Carl Schmitt, Modernism and Sovereignty at University of Southampton

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