Year Released: 2017
Directed by: Olivier Assayas
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Sigrid Bouaziz
(R, 105 min.)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense
“To weep is to make less the depth of grief.” William Shakespeare
She’s no longer lusting after vampires. This time she’s into ghosts. Kristen Stewart stars in this indie psychological thriller as a twin seeking to contact the spirit of her recently deceased brother.
The film is littered with horror tropes – ghostly presences, dark gothic mansions, and assorted things that go bump in the night – but don’t expect the typical clichés. And not too many real answers either.
In this way Personal Shopper, which takes place in and around Paris, reminds us of Cache, another purposely ambiguous French thriller. Don’t expect a fast pace or a tidy ending, or you’ll be disappointed. Like Cache, this film is far from white hot, but its slow burn is just as withering.
Sometimes, in fact, the pace is so slow that it creates a deeper tension than that of the hypersonic action we Americans are used to. The opening sequence, with Margaret (Kristen Stewart) walking through the dark rooms of a large and somewhat dilapidated estate just before dusk, seems endless. She is alone, and the only sounds we hear are the echoing footsteps on the hard floors. Most American directors would not have the patience or dare to try ours with this attenuated sequence, but strangely, it works. Our hearts lurch when Margaret finally calls out “Lewis,” her brother’s name.
It seems the twins, both of whom suffered from the same heart anomaly, vowed that whoever died first would try to send the other a sign from “the other side.” Lewis himself, in fact, was a medium.
Instead of a ghost story, though, this film is really a testament to loss and loneliness. Not that Maureen ever reverts to overt grief or tears. She is as stoic and externally numb as Oscar winning Casey Affleck in Manchester by the Sea. And just as a slow pace confounds us to increase tension, so do Margaret’s masked feelings act to intensify her grief.
Another irony is in the film’s title itself. Maureen earns her keep to stay in Paris seeking her brother’s spirit by selecting obscenely expensive designer gowns, purses, and jewelry for the media celebrity who employs her. But Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten) is rarely in her luxurious apartment when Maureen drops off her purchases, or she is busy on the phone negotiating the more favorable PR for her gorilla charity work. So there’s not much “personal” in the job except the title, and Kyra is not only fabulously rich and manipulative, but rather cheap and deceitful as well, refusing to return the leather pants Maureen had negotiated as an overnight freebie loaner. It seems the only real connection between the two is that Maureen is Kyra’s exact size, but the personal shopper can only select apparel; she is forbidden to ever wear it.
There is a time that Maureen breaks the rule and dresses herself in the glamorous gowns on a dare. At that moment drab and invisible Maureen becomes the glamorous Kyra, reminding us of Igmar Bergman’s 1966 Persona, where “a nurse put in charge of a mute actress finds their personalities melding together.”
The only real warmth and camaraderie is with Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz), her brother’s former girlfriend. She drives Maureen to the mansion that was to be Lewis’ and her home, and welcomes her to her Paris abode, a sundrenched urban cottage complete with two friendly dogs. This warmth only makes Maureen’s daily interactions seem more bleak.
The gothic deserted mansion hints of another century, but current Paris is cold and creepy in its own way. Modern electronic communications seem to isolate rather than connect. Skype gives Maureen the image and voice of her boyfriend working in Oman, when what she really needs is his human touch.
Similarly, the anonymous text messages she begins to receive further unnerve. Is it Lewis trying to reach her? Could she, in fact, be texting with a ghost? Maureen sits on a night train as the texts continue and they seem less and less brotherly and benign. The sender asks her probing questions that become more and more personal and vaguely erotic. That these are the extent of Maureen’s human intimacy is an indictment not so much of Maureen but of our current culture.
Personal Shopper asks questions and refuses to answer them, so it is not for the average viewer. But like early Hitchcock, it has a flair that compensates for a sometimes bumpy ride.
Just the thing to dispel any thoughts of ghosts or grief, this delicious dish might even put a smile on our sad personal shopper’s face. And we should be sure to serve it to her on the sunlight patio of her friend Lara’s urban cottage, complete with both dogs begging for a taste.
Rich and creamy, our Quiche Lorraine is a delight of eggs, heavy cream, and bacon. It’s a good thing these are not the forbidden items they used to be, but then again, Maureen seems to be attracted to the forbidden, as perhaps we all are.
1/2 (14.1-ounce) package refrigerated piecrusts
1 pound bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup green onions, chopped
8 ounces Swiss cheese, grated and divided
6 large eggs, beaten
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon table salt
Dash of ground red pepper
Dash of white pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Preheat oven to 425°. Fit piecrust into a 9-inch pie plate; fold edges under, and crimp. Prick bottom and sides of crust with a fork; bake 6 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Reduce oven temperature to 350°. Cool piecrust on a wire rack with preparing filling.
Cook bacon in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring often, 7 to 8 minutes or until crispy; drain on paper towels. Sprinkle bacon over bottom of pie shell. Sprinkle green onions over bacon; sprinkle half of Swiss cheese over onions.
Whisk together beaten eggs and next 5 ingredients. Carefully pour egg mixture over cheese. Sprinkle remaining cheese over egg mixture.
Bake at 350° for 35 to 40 minutes or until lightly browned and set in middle. Cool 15 minutes before serving.