Monday, October 10, 2016

NYFF Spotlight: Personal Shopper

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 54th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 30th-October 16th.

Personal Shopper
Directed by Olivier Assayas
NYFF Screenings

Kristen Stewart has been acting regularly for the past fifteen years and is one of the most well-known young actresses in Hollywood. After starring in the “Twilight” series, she became more famous for running her fingers through her hair than for delivering serious performances. All that changed in 2014, when she became the first actress to win France’s equivalent of the Oscar for her turn in “Clouds of Sils Maria.” It’s fair to say that expectations are high for her follow-up collaboration with the director who took her there, Olivier Assayas.

After playing a personal assistant in her César-winning role, Stewart shifts gears to portray Maureen, a personal shopper for an obnoxious and rarely-seen starlet. Her aimless trips around Europe to pick out clothes are contrasted by the deep commitment she exhibits in her other role as a medium, attempting to connect with her late twin brother’s spirit in his former home. There is an aura of darkness that follows Maureen even when she is not spending the night alone in a house she hopes is haunted, and when she begins receiving invasive text messages from an anonymous number, her loneliness compels her to answer them to try to create some connection to whoever it is who is tormenting her, living or dead.

Described in press releases and summaries as a ghost story, this film suffers from a severe lack of defined tone. Assayas, in a press conference following the film at its NYFF press screening, compares it to “Clouds of Sils Maria” and defines it as a film more obviously dealing with the subject, this time in physical form and with Maureen’s obsession with the undead. Billed as a psychological thriller, this film attempts to create horror out of the everyday and the mundane in a manner similar to “Black Swan.” The result is an intriguing but scattered combination.

This film, which won the award for Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival and is slated for release in France in December and in the United States in March, is unlikely to win Stewart a second César. While her performance is certainly grown-up, it doesn’t feel nearly as lived-in. The film’s title is particularly unsatisfying, since it seems an odd choice in which to frame Maureen’s life. There are layers of complexity buried within the title and the film, but its presentation leaves much to be desired.


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