The protagonist of Olivier Assayas’s new film Personal Shopper, Maureen, is somewhat of a wraith. Skinny, angular, and mostly silent, she visits high-end Parisian boutiques and picks out clothes for her demanding celebrity boss, never trying them on, zipping from one store to the next on a motorcycle. If she knows how impossibly cool her life seems from the outside, she doesn’t show it. Instead, Maureen (Kristen Stewart) seems intent on keeping the audience at arm’s length, even as we watch her go through a period of wrenching grief while simultaneously grappling with the supernatural.
Because, you see, Maureen is no ghost but a medium, who in her downtime communes with the spirit world. She’s also haunted (perhaps literally) by the loss of her twin brother, who shared her powers and recently died of a congenital heart defect. If this all sounds confusing, then strap in, because Personal Shopper has plenty more surprises, some unsettling, others completely confounding. Assayas’s great new film is by turns sinister, jarringly mundane, and entirely inimitable, as it explores the peculiar sorrow of losing a loved one while avoiding the obvious routes such a tale would usually take.
It’s not quite a masterpiece like Assayas’s last movie, Clouds of Sils Maria (2015)—the director’s first collaboration with Stewart, in which she played a disaffected but insightful assistant to Juliette Binoche’s aging star actress Maria Enders. That film looked at mortality in a more abstract way, examining how our relationship to art changes as we get older. It also offered a portrait of a woman suspicious of both the coming waves of young talent in her industry and the limiting roles she’s forced to take as she gets older. There, Stewart was a supporting presence, a sort of droll conscience to Maria who nonetheless helped remind her of her advancing years.