Olivier Assayas’ “Personal Shopper” bills itself as a ghost story, and that moniker applies to just about every facet of the film. Yes, there’s the obvious – Kristen Stewart’s Maureen considers herself a medium, and she looks to commune with the spirit of her recently departed twin brother Lewis. The first to leave the land of the living was to leave the other a sign, so she relocates to Paris in order to make contact. But mostly she’s just “waiting,” as Maureen describes it.
The apparitional element extends beyond the supernatural and the spiritualistic, though. Maureen pays her way in the City of Light as a personal shopper, a go-between for the producing and the consuming class. Her employer, the socialite Kyra, sends out Maureen as a phantom presence to select, purchase but never try on clothes for future engagements. The two scarcely ever have physical interactions, leading Maureen to approach her vocation with a deepening sense of estrangement and alienation. Not unlike with Lewis, it’s like she must communicate with and channel the spirit of a ghost.
Practically every aspect of “Personal Shopper” sees Maureen in contact with some kind of reality removed from her own, be it her boyfriend over Skype or a mysteriously probing and knowledgeable unknown number via text in the film’s centerpiece. As Maureen travels round-trip from Paris to London for the sole purpose of picking up a dress for Kyra, she feels an other-worldly gravitational pull to return to this persistent phantasm. As much as her thumbs may quiver in response, she keeps the conversation going for the cross-country train journey, revealing truths about herself to a person whose identity she cannot even verify.
There’s so much to unpack here, so much so that it feels wrong to even take a stab at the deeper meanings of “Personal Shopper” after just one viewing. Further watches will likely further illuminate just how carefully Stewart dances along the line of channeling someone and desiring to become that person altogether. Her ethereal performance does not so much power the film as she haunts it. Like a ghost, she’s diffuse, elusive and difficult to pin down and describe. B+ /