Death is often about bodies. In accordance, Personal Shopper first shows us, medically, the body of our protagonist – a fundamentally weak body. Bodies are dressed, undressed, posed and brutalized. Nothing is left unchecked in the latest film from director Olivier Assayas and starring Kristen Stewart. Personal Shopper weaves together several distinct plot-lines into a singular, cohesive narrative exploring everything from our relationship with pretty clothes to the afterlife.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Personal Shopper is its refusal to be defined. Not quite a ghost story, not quite a fashion walkway – it thrills, it chills and it puzzles. The mansion which we are introduced to is grandiose, creaky and terrifying, especially as Stewart’s barely audible whispers drift down its dilapidated halls. And then the real thrills begin – a series of mysterious messages from an unknown sender add another dense layer to the mystery. One of the most sublime elements of the film is Stewart’s waltz with the designer dresses of her client; an exploration of her desire, her self-confessed fear of the forbidden. All of which is set against the backdrop of Paris and London – with their cobbled streets and dusky skies presenting an earthy, handsome landscape.
Impressively, for a film that explicitly shows us supernatural figures and occurrences, it remains starkly ambiguous whether anything is real or imagined. This is the film’s centre, its equivocal metaphysics create an aesthetic of enigma. Never is this more clear than in the climatic hotel scene – shots of corridors, empty lifts and gunshots are mashed together brokenly. Yet, for a film which so overtly lacks definition, it is hardly unsatisfying – a cinematic feat given the abundance of unpredictable, inconclusive narrative threads. Stewart’s own dialogue is relatively minimal, but when she does speak, she delivers utterly poignant lines. Her final question is the one that viewers will have imprinted on their minds long after they’ve left the cinema. What remains is an homage to grief – with all its complexities, sensitivities and inexpressible pains.