France, 2015, 105 minutes, Colour.
Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielson Lie, Ty Olwin, Nora von Waldstatten.
Directed by Olivier Assayas.
Strongly divided opinions about this one. It was greeted by boos at the critics’ screening at the Cannes film Festival, but then it did win the Best Director award for Olivier Assayas and has received warm reviews.
Kristin Stewart, who had previously worked successfully with Assayas in Clouds of Sils Maria, is Maureen, the personal shopper of the title. She works for a temperamental actress, at her beck and call, but seemingly willing to do this work. There are quite a number of sequences where she goes to shops to pick up a range of clothes for her employer – and revealing a growing interest in the clothes and the possibilities of trying them on, of wearing them.
But, this is not the main focus of the film. she has some psychic powers, the sense of the presence of powers from the beyond, the possibility of ghosts. We see her spending the night in a house trying to get a sense of whether there are mysterious persons present – which brings her in contact with a number of celebrities who are interested in her powers. There is also a murder.
While Maureen herself has something of a personal life and relationships, she spends a lot of her time alone, going on trips, even to London, for personal shopping. Gradually, there are eerie aspects of her life, sensing of other people, much of it centring on the experience of the death of her brother – and something of his restlessness in the afterlife.
In the meantime, she goes to visit her boyfriend who is working in Morocco in IT.
Over the running time, so much of film action time is taken up with people on the phone. In this film, Maureen spends an inordinate amount of time with her smart phone, receiving mysterious texts, puzzling over them, communicating by text, the camera often in close-up on the messages, on the texts. This seems to be a very frustrating way of taking up film time, communicating message, and having the central character so dependent on text.
And, by the end, with the beyond-this-world suggestions, many who are sceptical audience will find these developments too much to take, not quite credible – which makes the booing at the Cannes Film Festival quite understandable.
1. The title, expectations? Themes not anticipated by the title?
2. The director, his reputation, Best Director at Cannes for this film? Kristen Stewart in his films?
3. Paris, the city, streets, shops, apartments, hotels? The countryside, the mansion? Scenes in London? The Eurostar? Morocco? The musical score?
4. The conflicting opinions about the film, awards, critical condemnation?
5. Maureen’s story, Kristin Stewart and her screen presence, cold and not drawing the audience in? The introduction, with her friends, Lara, dark house, her wandering, no lights, awaiting, the sense of a presence, sounds? Her friend, the buyers, the link with her brother, his being a medium? Their wanting the house tested?
6. The visit to the doctor, Lewis and his illness, his death, her having the same condition? Her waiting for a sign?
7. Kyra, celebrity, relying on Maureen, their talk, her expectations and demands, reputation? Going to meetings, socials? Her clothes, dresses, jewels, complete wardrobe, special occasions? A relationship? The men’s presence? Kyra’s death, murder, the arrest?
8. Maureen, shopping, the range of clothes, the shops, assistants, jewels, Maureen’s taste and decisions? Going to London? Buying the clothes? Her wanting to try them on?
9. Going back to the house, the sense of Lewis, contact? The issues of the afterlife, the discussion with Kyra’s friend, and not being sure?
10. Her boyfriend, Skype and conversations? His working in Morocco, information technology? His job, the bond between the two, his urging her to come?
11. The device of having the messages and the texting? So much of the film with the audience and camera looking at the mobile phones? The anonymous calls, playing games, sense of presence, knowing what Maureen was doing, her reaction, wanting to know who it was, the range of questions and replies, in London? On the Eurostar? Afterwards?
12. The contact daring her to overcome her fears, to try on the dresses, Maureen doing it, falling asleep?
13. Going to the apartment, discovering Kyra’s body? Her escape on the bike, return, interview with the police, his statement? Finding that she still had the jewels?
14. The decision to go to Morocco, the flight, the drive? The desert scenery? Her experience with the glass smashing, twice?
15. The sense of Lewis’s presence, her being freed? The light and her being satisfied?
16. The final image, Maureen in the light – her death or her enlightenment, her understanding?
17. The issue of the screenplay, the credibility of a ghost story like this? How much of the action was actual, real? How much in Maureen’s mind and imagination?