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Kirsten Stewart’s ‘Personal Shopper’ Could Be the Most Divisive Film You’ll See This Year

Olivier Assayas’s bold new ghost story showcases the best acting of Stewart’s career.

by Hannah Ewens
07 March 2017, 10:00am

Films are all about knowing. If you're watching a horror, you're expecting the moments that make your skin feel like it's prickling away from your arms. Whether it's a Hitchcock-style thriller, a satire or a drama, you're unconsciously following the signposts laid out by previous films of the genre

Personal Shopper is all and none of these genres – to the point that after watching it you'll be unsure how Olivier Assayas got away with it. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It just doesn't let you settle.

The film was controversial during 2016's Cannes Film Festival – getting booed at a press screening and then receiving a five-minute ovation the next night at its premiere – which is a sharp indicator of a daring but decent film that routinely becomes a cult classic (Pulp Fiction, Antichrist, Taxi Driver, Marie Antoinette).

Kristen Stewart plays Maureen, who – as the name suggests – is literally a personal shopper working for a ridiculous, irritating German designer-slash-supermodel, Kyra. An American living in Paris, Maureen carts couture around the city on a moped. She has a daring side to her, too. Existing on the peripheries of luxury but still having to chase her own payments from Kyra, she sometimes tries on Kyra's clothes, which gets her in trouble, and stays in Kyra's apartment while she is away.

Still from 'Personal Shopper'

Still from 'Personal Shopper'

The dark side – the murder, horror and thriller moments – comes from a strange plot intertwined with this more straightforward drama. Maureen is also a medium, who apparently has the ability to make contact with ghosts. Her twin brother had the same gift. "It's been 95 days," she says, about how long it's been since her brother passed away. "We made this oath. Whoever died first would send the other a sign."

So she's waiting around for this sign that may or may not ever come – it's a tale about grief, too. Undoubtedly, this is the best performance of Stewart's career so far. Maureen comes across as sad and calm in her personal life but confident in her professional ability to find beautiful, grossly extravagant clothing in a place while traversing a city that doesn't feel like home. But it's in her decaying, dark childhood home in France that she first tries to hunt for her brother. 

Still from 'Personal Shopper'

Still from 'Personal Shopper'

Communication with ghosts and demons cross-over with Skype calls and a mysterious messenger that won't leave Maureen alone. She couldn't be more alienated in Paris – or, it seems, in life generally – so the question is raised: is death just an extension of this alienation? What is real connection when you're rarely standing face to face with flesh and blood, the only friend you have hundreds of miles away at the other end of a dodgy line.

Personal Shopper isn't exactly a playful drama, neither is it a pretentious art film – more an interesting experiment that allows Kristen Stewart to prove her immense talent, while toying with uncomfortable themes and ultimately leaving you completely unsure of what you've just seen. You might hate it, but you might absolutely love it, too.

VICE is doing an exclusive free screening of Personal Shopper and a Q&A with director Olivier Assayas at a venue in central London on Wednesday the 15th of March. Enter the competition to get a pair of tickets here. Read the terms and conditions here.