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Saturday
Oct082016

NYFF: Personal Shopper

Jason reporting from NYFF on the spooky and stylish reunion between Clouds of Sils Maria's director and star...

When I first read that Olivier Assayas was making a haunted house movie starring Kristen Stewart my reaction was both "a record needle scratching to a halt sound-effect" and "a cartoon figure running through a wall only to leave a perfect cut-out of their shape in said wall." That is to say I was taken aback, but I wanted to be at that place immediately. Important Directors, those who get the word "important" capitalized, look down on genre too often. But it's almost always fascinating to see what these talents make of the well-trod constructs and conceits - how they twist and shape them to their personal auteurial demands.

And you could say ghosts hovering over sad stylish actresses has been a theme that Assayas has returned to time and again...

think upon Juliette Binoche weeping over her great losses in both Summer Hours and Clouds of Sils Maria. And then take a break, sit down for a bit, remember to breathe, because I know thinking about Juliette Binoche crying will take a lot out of you. Like the Rapture itself.

Personal Shopper just makes the ghosts literal (well metaphorical and literal, as all good ghost stories do) but no worries - the sad stylish actressing is still out in full force. Such style! Such actressing! It would appear that when Kristen Stewart disappeared into the mist in Sils Maria she merely wandered down to Paris and became a different demanding-woman's assistant. Or maybe this is an alternate dimension that she's meandered into? There's even another sequence of Stewart juggling texts and phone-calls on a train - I kept wishing we'd get a Binoche cameo to really bring it all together. (But then who goes to the movies and doesn't wish Binoche would suddenly randomly appear on the screen?)

That's not to say that Stewart's performance is a repetition of what she did (and did so well) in that previous film - well, not anymore than Kristen Stewart is always kind of "Kristen Stewart" on screen. She's not a transformative actress, it's true, but that's not meant as a knock - we go to plenty of movies to watch plenty of movie-stars be themselves, only in new exciting situations. She's our Jimmy Stewart, and there's something very similar to how Hitchcock used Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo to this - wanderers we watch wandering against a backdrop of encroaching phantom zones. And Kristen does fine (you might even call it "haunting") work here as a young woman unraveling as her grief takes spectral form around her. It's easily the sexiest, most mature performance she's given yet, even as her eyes hollow out underneath her.

And with good reason. Assayas proves himself more than capable with the genre-elements he sprinkles over the proceedings - I found the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end more than once, and there's a sequence involving an avalanche of delayed texts that's particularly inspired. I wouldn't be surprised if that idea was the lynch-pin in him wanting the make the movie., and I wouldn't be surprised if we see it stolen for a thousand inferior thrillers down the road.

In the end both the record-scratch and the cartoon-outline reactions that I had to the news of Personal Shopper proved omniscient - the film straddles a lot, neither this nor that, or maybe both that and this, and it's fascinating that way but maybe also a little bit frustrating too for those same reasons. It feels like a film that might hover and hang on though, its own kind of specter cast - it exists in its own time and its own place and I can see myself longing to find my way back to it again. I just hope I don't have to accept any phone-calls from another dimension in order to find my way back - the real horror comes from imagining all of those roaming fees!

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Reader Comments (11)

She seems to play a lot of assistants.

October 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMarie

I'm seeing this on Monday in the London Film Festival. Looking forward to it. I think Kristen Stewart's really likeable. And Assayas's work is always fascinating.

October 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Oh, for Christ sakes please don't compare Kristen Stewart to Jimmy Stewart...please, for the love of God, no.

Stewart is and always will be Kristen Stewart she is bland. It's bad enough that Chanel bought Caesar award for her, now, a whole shit ton of journos and critics are being paid off.

Word on the street, folks...this woman wants an Oscar more than life itself.

October 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCharlotte

Oh shit, Charlotte somehow found out about the big Kristen Stewart critics conspiracy - that she's been paying nearly every critic to praise her more and more in her time since Twilght ended, all for the nefarious purpose of being nominated for a shiny golden prize. Obviously Stewart will have to send assassins after Charlotte, to prevent her from spreading the truth before Stewart's Awards dreams are dashed.

October 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDuncan Dykes

Jason -- i must echo your last paragraph. Ambiguity is a really hard thing to pull off when you want to make a movie about ghosts but also that maybe ghosts aren't real?and I'm not sure Assayas succeeds but it's an interesting watch.

Charlotte -- i know where the frustration is coming from. I get it. even though I feel differently. I mean I think it's ridiculous that people are starting to say "best of her generation" (not even close) but Jason's right that just being yourself on screen with new formations around you is not a bad thing (a lot of great movie stars do it). and she's definitely improving as an actrress by challenging herself with auteurs.

October 8, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

The fact that she moved away from blockbusters into the independant cinema arena is admirable but she is definitely the most widely overpraised actress of her generation. And for those of us who haven't really caught the Kristen Stewart bug yet it is very very obnoxious to witness.

October 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

I don't mind her improving her skills, we all are trying, but the assistant thing (personal assistant, secretary, personal shopper) is annoying.. Is she limited to minimal characters? She and Natalie Portman are wooden and repetitive to me, and I know Natalie has also been exchanging a lot of coin for favorable press. I just do my job.

October 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterEmma Stone

I tried and tried to get the appeal of whatever she was doing in Sils Maria but my eyes just always veered back to Binoche. Every time. I still don't understand how anyone could watch that movie and even pay attention to Kristen Stewart - not because she's bad or bland (she's perfectly fine in the role) but because she's Just Not Juliette Binoche.

Also Stewart was diabolically bad in Still Alice. (Just TRY and defend that Chekhov reading! Just try it!)

And she was even the least interesting of the major performers in Certain Women for me.

So all that said: I watched Personal Shopper today..... and I'm starting to get the KStew hype... I think.
The 'best of her generation' talk is a joke - and kinda an unfair as well as uncalled-for pressure to put on her.
And she still has irritating high-school-drama there's-a-gap-in-my-dialogue-I-don't-know-where-to-look tacky moments in Personal Shopper. But as the movie progresses and she settles into her character, she is definitely very charismatic and mature and sexy. I'd still rather watch roughly ten other actresses do the roles she's given. But I also kinda like her now.

October 9, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Kristen Stewart is an excellent actress. She's always been an excellent actress - ever since "The Safety of Objects" - and the only reason that this is even up for discussion at this point is because she has participated in a number of very disappointing commercial movies, where the material was often so below her she has had to convince herself she's performing in a completely different narrative than what was actually being put on screen (just watch some of her interviews about all the Twilight BS - it's honestly fascinating). Naturally, as those were precisely the movies the majority of moviegoers ended up seeing, the popular opinion still is that she's unable to act, though the fact that many happen think the same is never an excuse for stupidity (just recall of all those people supporting Trump lol). As such understanding Kristen Stewart is kind of a litmus test for understanding film in principle - if someone doesn't like her as an actress, it's almost certain that their perspective on all matters cinematic is irrelevant.

October 10, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterekkko

ekkko, it is possible for you to like Kristen Stewart and for someone else to dislike and still both of you would have a good "understanding" of film. It really is possible. I can feel it.

October 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTony T

I LOVE THIS MOVIE! I had no idea that all I wanted from a movie was Kristen Stewart motorbiking around paris, trying on high fashion, and receiving text messages from a ghost.

That's all I have to say.

October 10, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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