LES FILMS DU SOLANGE (2017)

 

Director: Olivier Assayas

 

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielsen Lie, Ty Olwin, Hammou Graia, Nora van Waldstatten, Benjamin Biolay, Audrey Bonnet, Pascal Rambert

I’ve always fancied having a personal shopper, mainly to see if my fashion sense really is that humdrum or whether these fashionistas actually do have the picking prowess of a vogue god. As I settled in to watch Personal Shopper, I was ready to take notes on how rad clothes are picked and how to dress at my most hip.

 

Then an ectoplasm spewing ghost turned up. A seemingly crazed stalker too.

 

Also, an insipid movie too.

The movie follows Maureen (Stewart), a personal shopper for a world famous, yet reclusive, movie star Kyra (van Waldstatten). Maureen is also a low-level medium, a talent she shared with her deceased brother Lewis. She is currently living and working in Paris, compiling grossly expensive outfits and accessories for Kyra and having a fairly glum time of it. However, she won’t leave Paris until she has made contact with Lewis. Before his death (due to a genetic heart problem shared with Maureen) the pair made a pact - if one was to die, they would attempt to make contact and prove the existence of the afterlife, and Maureen is determined to wait for Lewis’ otherworldly signal. To achieve this, she stays overnight at Lewis’ mansion in the hope he will reach out to her. Through the dark, sprawling mansion, something is lurking.

 

In the real world, on a drop-off to Kyra’s plush pad, Maureen discovers that her married boss has been having a long-term affair with a magazine editor, Ingo (Eidinger), who is convinced he is about to be jilted. On the flipside, Maureen has been offered the chance of a retreat in Oman with her boyfriend, Gary (Olwin). Along with her busy, always commuting day job, Maureen finds herself dealing with a lot, and that’s before she begins receiving creepy, mysterious text messages from someone who seems to know all about her.

 

Before I get lynched and hung to an artistic looking cross, I appreciate cinema, the fine beauty of crafting a stunning and evocative piece of art. Directors are similar to composers – there are a million and one things to connect in their heads before presenting it to the world to critique and love, and that is a skill I wholly admire. I’m also very aware of Olivier Assayas personal tropes when it comes to film-making, however that doesn’t alter my opinion when it comes to this movie. It just didn’t work for me. The lack of cohesion collapsed the movie.

 

Attempting to weave various strands and genres into a movie is tricky at the best of times, and in Personal Shopper we have horror, mystery, thriller and drama – but which is the prevalent direction? None of them. Individually, each ‘aspect’ works just fine. The ghost story was a nice, eerie story strand. The mystery of the text messages and the cat-and-mouse game would’ve made a fine movie by itself. When it came to drama, the movie fell flat for me. Highlighting the tedium of everyday life actually became tedious – the shopping scenes were so at odds with the preceding scenes they just felt out of place. The themes of avariciousness, mortality and the afterlife didn’t connect and I wasn’t invested in the journey, however the ambiguity of the ending was a welcome addition and one director trope I can get behind.

 

Having uninteresting characters was also an issue. Maureen in no way needed to be charismatic for her to be enjoyable, however the gloom never lifted from her haunted eyes. That said, I did like Stewart’s performance and the subtle emotions she was able to bring, further cementing her position as a genuine talent. As for the rest of the cast? I struggle to recall them with any particular fondness (and yes, I was paying attention to the movie…)

 

Through the erratic pacing, there are long bouts of silence – a great convention of European cinema – with the movie utilising a near hushed tone. There’s not a vast amount of dialogue, it’s more about the physical performance of Stewart then what she needs to verbally emote. A scene of the repressed Maureen trying on her employer's clothes (an act that is forbidden) finally allows the character to find herself and to express her inner desires – or is she simply just playing dress up to alleviate the tension within her? It’s a nice scene which looks great and is shot with a knowing silence, save for the strains of ‘Das Hobellied’ (performed by Marlene Dietrich) gracefully invading the scene. There isn’t an awful lot to say about the visuals of the movie, it’s a lovely looking movie as it movies from Paris to London and Oman.

 

The attempt for silky, seductive and scary succeeds in sections, but unfortunately the jarring tonal shifts and lack of magnetism fails the movie. Kristen Stewart alone can’t save the movie which unfortunately failed to capture the imagination. Personal Shopper has lots of good ideas sewn into it, however the sums do not create a great overall part.

 

I’ll pick my own clothes thanks.

September 1st 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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