Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2017 7:53 pm 
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Fashion and ghosts

Personal Shopper is an elegant ghost movie starring one of today's coolest actresses, Kristen Stewart. She played Juliette Binoche's assistant in Olivier Assayas' previous Clouds of Sils Maria. Assayas liked her so much he made this whole movie as a vehicle for her. She has a complicated double role that she wears like an old shoe. And while she dresses up in super-expensive finery at one point, she doesn't dress up for her part; it's an old T shirt and jacket and stylishly disheveled hair, a pout and a face full of care that never dents her severe beauty. Her character, Maureen Cartwright, is a personal shopper for a rich celebrity, too busy and too famous to buy her own clothes and accoutrements. But Maureen has another "job": she's also a medium seeking closure with the spirit of her recently deceased brother Lewis.

Maureen isn't having it easy. The encounters with the ectoplasm and signs of Lewis are disturbing and sad, of course. She also hates her job for Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten), her pouty celebrity boss, whom she never sees, and doesn't want to. But Stewart makes it look cool and fun, as much at ease on a motorcycle tooling around Paris as riding the EuroStar to and from London or picking up jewelry at Cartier or dresses and shoes from posh boutiques. This is a life that's vicariously fascinating, in the classic manner of the movies. You might not really want to be her and she doesn't want to be doing what she's doing now, but it's still fun to imagine being her for these few important, fraught moments.

Personal Shopper is a ghost movie, but its milieu is so knowing and chic it avoids any feel of genre. This will displease fans of the genre as much as it makes palatable a topic some of us aren't normally all that much interested in. It may be a tossup whether you prefer Maureen as a personal shopper or as a medium communicating uneasily with Lewis. There was a lot of talking on cell phones in Sils Maria, but this time it's all texting, and the movie's real tour-de-force and most enjoyable passage is a trip to and from London on the Eurostar during which Maureen is constantly in SMS communication with an Unknown Caller who knows all about her, and about Lewis, and who prods her to take on what she fears most. The Unknown Caller texting Maureen is ectoplasm on the line. What will it want to know next? Where will this conversation go? Stewart performs the trip as routine; she never drops a line. Nor does Assayas, whose fluid filmmaking is a pleasure to watch.

Ghosts inhabit places and central to the piece is an old elegant house that Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz), Lewis' girlfriend, is now selling. Lara already has a new boyfriend - which is okay, Maureen is cool with moving forward, not into drawn-out grieving. And - another cool move by Assayas - the new boyfriend, Erwin, is played by Anders Danielsen Lie, the star of two of the best films of the last decade, Joachim Trier's Reprise and his Oslo, August 31st.

There is another kind of ectoplasm, Maureen's blurry Skype boyfriend Gary (Ty Olwin), an IT expert setting up programs in Muscat. Again the movie is cool: we're always getting Dubai thrust down our throats but it's Oman that's the sweet, still human part of the Gulf. After a big shock, Maureen goes to see Gary, who's taking a break in a quiet spartan retreat some way by chauffeured car from the town of Muscat. As usual, Maureen doesn't see the person she's come for. Gary has left a note. But she sees something else. And then, white-out.

Obviously this movie enjoyably plays around with the fringes of chic. It's a fringe movie. But that's what makes it fresh and subtle. It may not please everyone; what does? But it was far more enjoyable than I'd been led to expect from reports since Cannes, where it got booed. It's fun. Enjoy it.

Personal Shopper, 105 mina., debuted in Competition at Cannes May 2016; it was in many other festivals, including New York. French release 14 Dec. 2016: French reviews somewhat lukewarm (AlloCiné press rating 3.1); Metacritic rating 68%. US theatrical release 10 Mar. 2017.

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