Monday, December 11, 2017

Couture Ectoplasm

What does communicating with the dead have to do with being a celebrity's assistant? Well, Kristen Stewart does both in 2017's Personal Shopper, a movie that never quite gets on its feet, but is a nice enough excuse to watch Kristen Stewart try on clothes and star in some well constructed, tense sequences.

Maureen (Stewart) is in Paris working as a personal shopper for a celebrity named Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten). She's also in Paris because her brother recently died there and he'd promised her that after he died he'd send her a sign. Like her brother, Maureen is a medium, but as she explains to a friend, she never shared her brother's certainty that the beings they contacted were spirits of the dead instead of some other phenomenon.

So she's spending a lot of time in her brother's old house, waiting for him to give her a sign. There's an inexplicable subplot about two of her brother's friends having a romantic relationship, which they slowly break the news to Maureen about over the course of the film in several casual conversations. It's really bland and it doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything. A red herring? I guess.

Writer and director Olivier Assayas wisely seems to feel he can't really settle the question about the afterlife for Maureen but he doesn't seem happy with leaving us with ambiguity. One special effect in a later scene seems to confirm the existence of the afterlife, then an encounter Maureen has makes her doubt it more. The moral seems to be, "Sometimes ghosts play pranks and we should be very solemn about it."

A fairly effective subplot about a stalker who starts texting Maureen builds tension nicely. Conversations in texts aren't as boring as you'd think because Assayas makes sure to have Maureen on train journeys through Paris and London or changing into a kinky harness for a designer while she's exchanging the texts. Maureen starts to get turned on by her anonymous correspondent, confiding she wants to be someone else, and telling him that she's trying on her employer's clothes because forbidden things turn her on. It's never quite enough to build a personality for Maureen but, along with the fact that we know she has a heart problem, it makes for some scenes that effectively make you afraid for her.

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