Review of Personal Shopper

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In September, Get Reel Movies sent me to the press screening of Personal Shopper, directed by Olivier Assayas and starring Kristen Stewart. Then, at TIFF, I interviewed him. You can hear my questions here:

You can read the transcript I typed up of that interview on the Get Reel Movies site here. And I’ll paste it below. And below that, I’ll paste my review of the movie.

Olivier Assayas interview:

I noticed that there was no humour at all in the movie. I didn’t laugh at all. Which is interesting. Was that a deliberate choice, to make it very dark?

No, it’s allowed to… I mean, you know… I think my movies usually have a sense of humour, but I think it’s a peculiar sense of humour and people just don’t get it. But I think a lot of things in these movies are kind of tongue in cheek. And you don’t have to read it that way. I had fun shooting the Victor Hugo TV movie (a movie within the movie, which Kristen Steward watches to learn about seances). But no, it’s not a comedy in the way that Clouds of Sils Maria is a comedy. Clouds of Sils Maria has open comedy moments, similar to the scene where – you don’t have to laugh there – but with the model who has the gorilla foundation. We were having fun on the set. But you can take it seriously, right, you know? If you like gorillas, you will take them seriously. But this is a movie about mourning, about communicating with the dead. It’s about someone who’s going through a bad time in her life. So yah, it’s going to be a bit darker, certainly, than other movies I’ve made.

I really liked the aspect of the texting. At the beginning, when she opened a book, I thought, “Oh, god. Is this one of those movies where people read books?” I haven’t read a book in years. But then she started texting. Which is what you would do. Usually in movies people call, but in real life, who uses the phone? But she was webcamming with her boyfriend, which was a neat juxtaposition with the old ghost videos. But were you concerned at all that in a couple of years, it might be dated? But this couldn’t even have been made a couple of years ago, with things like the phone going out of range and texts coming from an unknown number…

But the past does not vanish. It’s still there. We live in a present that is defined by the past. A lot of the past is still around, even inside ourselves. We are not just the person who we are at this moment. We are also the person we were 5, 10, 15 years ago. So I like the juxtaposition, but I think that is ultimately what defines reality in many ways.

I felt like the city of Paris was almost like a character in the movie. The apartments and the streets. Would you say Paris is your muse as much as Kristen Stewart is?

Yes, in the sense that it had been ages since I had shot Paris. Because I had been making those period films, I could not show the city as it is, the modern city of Paris. I had done a lot of that in my earlier films and at some point I just got fed up, so I thought it would be boring. But when I started shooting Personal Shopper I actually enjoyed filming Paris. I enjoyed using wide lenses and showing as much as I could of it. In a way, to inscribe this story in the modern energy of Paris. And by the way, we shot those scenes 5 days before the terrorist attacks. 5 days later, they would not even have allowed us to film in the streets of Paris. It became much more important that I had imagined initially.

Merci beaucoup.

AND NOW FOR THE MOVIE REVIEW:

Review of Personal Shopper by Josh Rachlis

I went into Personal Shopper knowing nothing about it, other than the title and that it was a French thriller. I’ve enjoyed French thrillers, like Tell No One, and… Um… Ok, maybe that’s the only French thriller I’ve seen. I know there’s another one that’s supposed to be really good and has a shocking twist in the final shot. My screenwriting teacher told me about it. Ah, Google tells me it’s called Caché. I’ll have to watch that sometime.

Come to think of it, there wasn’t much French in the movie. So don’t be scared off. I’m not sure why it’s called a French thriller. Well, it does take place in Paris. And it was written and directed by Olivier Assayas, who is French. But it stars Kristen Stewart, who speaks English.

Anyway, the movie was pretty good. I wasn’t bored during it, and that’s pretty much my only criteria for movies these days. Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, a girl whose twin brother died of a heart condition she also has. She’s living in Paris, working as personal shopper for a rich French lady. I think the lady is a model. Maureen’s boyfriend is in Greece or something, and tells her on webcam to come hang out with him, but Maureen is staying in Paris to find out if she can contact her brother’s spirit. Because she likes reading up on ghosts. Or maybe she has powers to contact the dead. I can’t remember. I’m writing this review 6 months after seeing the film. So I can just tell you what still sticks in my head. And I shall do so in the form of a shopping list. As a clever reference to the title. And also because writing in point form is easier. So here’s a list of things that, if you’re looking for these things, you’ll be glad to know you’ll find them in the movie.

  • Paris – Check. There are lots of shots of Maureen shopping in Paris stores and riding her scooter on Paris streets. It made me want to go live in Paris. Do you know any models who will hire me?
  • Shopping – Check. Maureen looks at a belt and tries on dresses. The movie lives up to its title.
  • Boobs – Check. Maureen is at the doctor topless and that woke me up. Made me realize this is a grown-up movie. If I had seen the Twilight movies, I probably would have been even more shocked. She also gets naked trying on clothes once or twice. But I’ll stop talking about this now because I sound like a perv instead of a professional film critic.
  • Scary texts – Check. She has a long text conversation with an Unknown Number. Maybe it’s a stalker. Maybe it’s a ghost. Either way, in these iPhone times, there’s nothing scarier than an Unknown Number. Much scarier than a maniac with a chainsaw.
  • Creepy ghost stuff – Maureen looks for a ghost in a house. So if you like ghost stuff, you’ll be happy. Me, I probably would have been fine to just watch her shop. Because I don’t believe in ghosts. I’m into science. But then maybe instead of watching ghost movies, I should go watch Bill Nye The Science Guy and stop complaining.
  • Cryptic ending – Check. The ending was one of those cool, French thriller endings that’s subtle and probably too smart for me. When I interviewed the writer/director, that was probably my best opportunity to ask someone what the ending meant. But I didn’t ask him. Because I didn’t want to sound dumb. Which makes me definitely dumb. So if you see the movie and understand the ending, please let me know. Just don’t text me from an Unknown Number.

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