reasons both personal and political, a young American woman in Paris is drawn
to the work of Hilma af Klint. Considered the one of the earliest abstract artists,
af Klint claimed the geometric shapes she painted were transmitted directly to
her hand by the spirit world. Given the recent increase in critical interest,
the Moderna Museet probably now regrets turning down the proposed gift of her
entire body of work in 1970. Frankly, it might also take a while for audiences
and critics to catch up with Olivier Assayas’s latest genre-defying release,
which features af Klint’s work prominently. It even stars Kristen Stewart, but
it is lightyears more refined than the Twilight
franchise. Ghosts are a serious subject, but much about their nature is
open to interpretation in Assayas’s Personal
opening this Friday in New York.
Cartwright lives a solitary existence. She works as a personal shopper for a
vain, charity ball-attending celebrity, whom she rarely sees. Most of her
instructions come from terse notes left in the jet-setter’s usually un-lived-in
Parisian apartment. She is also still mourning the loss of her twin brother Lewis
from the genetic heart defect they both shared. At least her soulless celebrity
schlepping allows her time to moonlight as a medium.
also shared with Lewis a "sensitivity" to the spirit world. At one point, they
made a pact agreeing the first to die would send back signs to the surviving
sibling from wherever. As a result, a freelance assignment to investigate a
house associated with Lewis for lingering spirits holds deeply personal
implications for Cartwright.
begins the film with Cartwright arriving to conduct her night-long “séance” and
it just might be the most riveting “cold open” you will ever see. He makes it apparent
there is some sort of entity hovering just outside Cartwright’s field of
vision, but not that of the audience. When things do go bump in the night, it
is not clear whether it is her brother attempting to communicate or a malicious
spirit trying to deceive her. As a result, Shopper
easily boasts some of the most breathlessly tense scenes you will find in a
film not intended as a horror movie, per se. The unsettling ambiguity continues
when Cartwright starts receiving ominous messages from a mystery texter. Again,
it is not clear whether they are coming from a benign or malignant spirit, or
perhaps a more terrestrial (and physically dangerous) source.
are no easy answers in Shopper, which
is likely to frustrate Twilight fans,
but it will leave smarter genre viewers intrigued to the point of obsession.
Assayas deliberately gives us scenes that support multiple conclusions, only to
contradict them shortly thereafter. Yet, it never feels like he is deliberately
toying with viewers. In fact, every frame of the film feels like it fits
logically and organically into the whole.
Stewart is not stretching so much from the personal assistant she played (so
very well) in Assayas’s masterful Clouds of Sils Maria, but she still deserves credit for such an open and
vulnerable portrait of spiritual and social alienation. Just as Assayas never
wastes a shot, Stewart uses every second to express the doubts and anxieties plaguing
Technically, Stewart valiantly carries Shopper, appearing in nearly every frame
of film, often without the benefit of another actor to play off. Yet, it rarely
feels like she is “alone,” thanks to Assayas’s remarkable powers of suggestion.
It is a masterful example of how subtle elements can be combined to ratchet up
suspense. Without question, it represents some of the best work yet from both
Assayas and Stewart, his current diva-of-choice. Very highly recommended for
fans of ambitious genre cinema, Personal
Shopper opens this Friday (3/10) in New York, at the IFC Center.
Labels: Ghost movies, Kristen Stewart, Olivier Assayas