Assayas Dead Homie: Personal Shopper Review
As a modernist procedure juxtaposing very Victorian concerns (ghosts) with the lived-in futurism of fashion always on the cusp of now-ness (smartphones, pretty dresses, escalators), Personal Shopper mostly succeeds. A Henry James adaptation at its most technical — both cosmopolitan and a ghost story — without resorting to cosplay or reserved stiffness, the film mimics that active vagueness. Impressionistic in the lack of detail but never an empty image, the limitations put upon the work expand it through “doing” less. Only allowing flourishes at the most elemental levels, the film is a rarer thing. A full-length experiment where the director is working out or still in the process of working out style too practical to pin down easily but only accomplished through the labour. Where roughness has a certain boon and where watching this process cracks the final result open.
Without calling Personal Shopper a “spiritual” successor to Clouds of Sils Maria and farting to death, the film is an extension of what Sils Maria tries and achieves. Sils Maria’s fault of being a materialist film hinting at the ethereal only to bend when making the metaphor too real (The girl who likes X-men movies disappears in a cloud?), straightens in Shopper. Kristen Stewart’s personal assistant here exists in the middle of materialist and spiritualist spheres where her practicality is the level. Picking out clothes for a socialite barely home or talking to a ghost that might be there and might be her brother are separate genres but a similar action. Environments are the only real objects changing as you’re watching Stewart creak through a vacant 19th century house or stomp into an ultra modern/open-concept home. Genre is wearable. Evoking feeling — a trope, an image — like wearing a sheer black dress with a harness that’s not only a really sexy dress (oh boy) but where function and an ethereal design mend. An aesthetic experiment that would be boring (just being about aesthetics sucks) if the film didn’t have more primal concepts or drives underneath.
A text message back and forth between Stewart and an unknown figure (maybe a ghost maybe that other guy) lacks the typical effectiveness of booms and louder booms of a ghost trying to talk but draws in dread within such a reductive method of just typing words out. Making a more minimal action than talking on a phone into the most terrifying where language has to be at its most simplistic. Direct but scarier because it’s stamped on. Relaxed in spots where it almost becomes more erotic. Loose and working within naturalism — waiting for the creepy dude to text back — but either steering into that boredom or surrounding the action so much on that phone and that conversation everything else seems duller. It’s the most complete and earnestly effecting sequence of the film. A montage building out of the air that’s not manipulative but changing what we’re feeling in such a neutered space. Other movies would just be this sequence.
I’m using terms like “experiment” and “procedure” to describe Personal Shopper because it does miss a mark that’s enough to knock it down a little bit from being completely successful. The film has two endings — the first ending being the best while the other is just a synonym of the first (also no one gives a shit about Stewart’s Techbro Boyfriend) — still indicating a roughness to the work on the whole. It’s enough to make you mad because the shot was perfect enough to hard cut to the credits. A shot doing the bare minimum at the exact point where everything has been striped out, where a crying face and a broken glass are the most nakedly clear signifiers to stop. But that’s the thing about working. Knowing when isn’t that clear.