By Shelby Fielding (Lubbock, Texas)
Emotionless, bland, and repulsive are all descriptors that have been used to provide criticism to Kristen Stewart’s filmography as an actress. Until recently have those critiques died down due to her focus on art house films. But, now in Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper Kristen proves us all wrong with her exceptional performance in an unconventional film that focuses on the themes of grief, spirituality, and self-identity. A narrative of a grieving sister named Maureen who made a pact with her brother that when they passed, they would leave a message behind from the other side. This concept is unconventional, and Olivier Assayas recognizes that and applies it to its full potential in one of the best art house films of the year thus far.
On first viewing, this film passed me by, with its slow pacing and completely subtle performances. I noticed the obvious talent presented with its immaculate cinematography that exhumes interest and provokes attention from the viewer. I was honestly confused however by the screenplay and what the message of the film represents. On second viewing, this movie stood out and resonated in a loud way. Personal Shopper is one of those movies in my opinion, that you have to rewatch to understand it and the more you viewings you have of this one hundred and five-minute narrative the more you begin to connect with the film’s message. That message centers entirely around the psychology of grief: how we face it, how we combat it, how our mind has strains when contemplating the thought that the one person we cared about is gone possibly for forever.
Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper examines this beautifully with multiple unnerving sequences. Such as when Maureen goes on a trip to London to purchase various types of clothes for the popular model she is employed by. The whole while she does this while texting this unknown number which she believes could be her deceased brother reaching out to her through the modern communication of texting. She struggles believing that completely and begins battling herself on this trip and at times breaking down from the devastating impact of grief. This sense of emptiness and loss begin to weigh on her as the runtime lengthens. The filmmaking recognizes this with impeccable direction, using multiple close-ups and handheld shots focused on Kristen Stewart’s facial expressions. Her reactions and her emotions to reveal to us the thoughts and motivations going through her mind as well as how this emotional tension begins to conflict with her everyday life of normality which is what this screenplay is designed to do.
From its almost emotionless color design of the cinematography that represents a loss or a tunnel-like syndrome of emotional despondency. To its attentively focused pacing with every scene being methodical and constructive on the scenes before it. The median run time of these shots is easily between ten to fifteen seconds long, and it reflects as mourning does and symbolically represents that. As we know, mourning is a slow and emotionally draining process that makes you begin to question your existence from your aspirations to your sexuality. Olivier Assayas recognizes this, and it’s displayed in that pacing. This film moves slowly as Maureen’s grief dissipates. With the first act of the movie containing long scenes filled with encompassing shots of mediums and over the shoulder shots.
The closer we come to the end of the runtime we begin to pace to a normal speed that starts to lighten the screen with whites as if to persuade the audience to recognize Maureen’s growth from mourning. This style is what makes art house filmmaking worthwhile, and what makes the Personal Shopper an enthralling film that only suffers from its complexities. The fact that you may have to rewatch this movie for a second time to gather a more critical analysis of the message and motifs of the film can be considered a flaw of sorts. I recognize though the remarkable talent put on display with the writing and direction of Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart’s exceptional and uncommon performance. Leading to the Personal Shopper rising above the other Sundance films arriving in theaters as of late.
Olivier Assayas’s Personal Shopper serves as an example of how unconventional filmmaking is not only underutilized but underrated as well. This style is not unique and provocative, but it’s more susceptible to hidden themes. It’s also easier to convey abstract concepts such as grief like Personal Shopper. Reminding us that while fun, interactive adventure filled with the one-liner, charismatic actors, and visually entrancing sequences have their place in their filmic way. The impacts of filmmaking come from the artistic dissection of real life conflicts that we deal with as human beings, and how the idea of visual storytelling can resonate stronger than other arts by providing differing perspectives of concepts that require experiential knowledge at times to completely comprehend. Reminding us that life can be a unique, transitional, and adamant journey that we do not have to go through alone. Instead, we take one step at a time together.