Friday, 28 April 2017

PERSONAL SHOPPER : Tuesday 25th April 2017.

'PERSONAL SHOPPER' which I saw early this week is a psychological thriller Directed and Written by Frenchman Oilvier Assayas whose last film was the acclaimed 'Clouds of Sils Maria' also starring Kristen Stewart as she does in this latest offering. The film Premiered at Cannes last May in competition for the Palme d'Or where is shared the Best Director Award, before its release in France in December and in the US in early March. Interestingly enough the film was booed at its initial Cannes Film Festival screening, but at its official Premier it received a near five minute standing ovation.

Here American Maureen Cartwright (Kristen Stewart) is a personal shopper for wealthy clients and in particular famous fashion model Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten) buying clothes, accessories and taking care of lesser tasks mostly in her home city of Paris, but her shopping trips often take her to London too and other European centres. As the film opens we see Maureen pulling up to a large set of iron gates in a friends car. She gets out, unpadlocks the heavy chains securing those gates and the car drives in. Maureen paces up behind the car to a large house standing in its own grounds on the outskirts of some nameless town. We learn that this is where Maureen's twin brother, Lewis, died just a few months ago and with whom she shared a genetic heart condition. Before he passed away they made a pact that whoever would go first, would then reach out from the other side and make a connection somehow with the surviving sibling that they are at peace. They both believed they had the ability to connect with the spirit world, but his powers were stronger than hers. She is dropped off at the house by good friend and former girlfriend of her brother, Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz). The house is empty, deserted and cleared of most fixtures and fittings. Maureen stays the night hoping for some kind of message, sign, or signal from her dead sibling.

Very little happens overnight although Maureen senses a presence in the household, but is unsure if this is her brother of some other ethereal entity.  The next day we see her at work, shopping for her employer - Kyra, who is very demanding, very head strong and very opinionated to the point that Maureen hates her job and she hates Kyra. The fashion model is hardly ever there however, more often than not attending some international fashion event, or photo shoot or party or social function that demands her presence. This leaves Maureen the free run of Kyra's apartment but under strict guidelines not to wear any article of clothing or use her accessories and not to stay over in her absence . . . never, ever! Meanwhile Maureen rides her scooter around the streets of Paris collecting dresses, jewellery, handbags, belts for Kyra and delivering them to her apartment. And Maureen is good at her job - she has a rapport with all the top fashion houses and boutiques around town, and she coincidentally is the same size as Kyra.

From time to time Maureen SKYPE's with her boyfriend Gary (Ty Olwin) who is some sort of IT Consultant working in Muscat, Oman. He is keen for her to join him as his work still has two months or so to run, Maureen however, cannot move on until she has received a sign from her dead brother, so her life is on hold. She spends another night in the deserted house hopeful of some sort of communication with her brother. This time, success, sort of, as taps turn on all by themselves, first in the downstairs kitchen and then quickly upstairs in the bathroom. Then there are things that go bump in the night, and then an ethereal manifestation appears but it's not that of her brother! This sends the scared shitless Maureen cowering into the corner as the entity floats menacingly above her. She musters up the strength to look up as the ghost like figure vomits up ectoplasm, and then it and the ectoplasm disappear through a stairwell window never to be seen again. Maureen decides its high time to exit the house and does so post haste, not even closing the doors behind her.

A day or so later Maureen has to go to London for the day to collect some more gear for Kyra. Going through the security checks at the train station in Paris she begins receiving text messages from 'Unknown'. Boarding the train and throughout the journey to London, during the day and on the journey back she has near constant text dialogue with 'Unknown' which increasingly becomes more and more sinister. 'Unknown' however, will not reveal his or her identity except that they know each other. Maureen senses the danger but cannot shy away from it.

The secret messenger taunts Maureen into facing her fears and taking advantage of her employers apartment and clothing in her absence. Upon returning from her London shopping trip armed with new clothes and Kyra overseas, Maureen settles into the apartment for the night and tries on a couple of high fashion outfits recently sourced. She falls asleep in Kyra's bed, only to wake with a start in the early morning with a ghost like entity hovering above her bed which disappears as soon as Kyra comes round from her slumber.

The next day the text messages from 'Unknown' continue but this time with a greater sense of urgency and menace. Going back to her own apartment and retrieving her post there is an envelope with 'Maureen' hand written in big bold text. In it is a key card to a hotel room to which she is go, to meet with 'Unknown', but upon arrival the room is empty. She waits and waits and leaves, enquiring at the desk whose name the room is booked under and who paid for the room - Maureen Cartwright and cash, therefore no trace, comes the response from the desk clerk. Later we see Maureen visiting a Cartier boutique to collect a very expensive necklace and arm band which she delivers later that afternoon to Kyra's apartment. Upon entering Kyra is clearly at home evidenced by the upturned vodka bottle on the table and luggage and clothes strewn about the place, but, the place is all quiet. Maureen stumbles across a shocking discovery, that sees her run from the apartment.

More text messages come forth this time of a threatening nature with 'Unknown' seemingly willing to confront her at her apartment, but these prove to be a hoax. At which Maureen promptly switches the SIM card in her phone and discards the old one. She does though make another visit to the hotel room, where 'Unknown' meets with her, although we do not see 'Unknown' and her together and we are left guessing as to the identity of her assailant. When the dust has settled Maureen spends a few nights at the house of her good friend Lara, having made the decision to go to Muscat to spend a few months with her boyfriend. Lara has a new boyfriend with whom she chats in the garden over a breakfast cup of tea. When the boyfriend leaves for work a short time later, we see a bearded figure through the kitchen window behind her, walking towards the back door, carrying a glass. Maureen is not aware of the mysterious figure behind her - only of the glass as it falls to the floor and smashes into a thousand pieces. and the mystery man disappeared, as if into thin air!

Maureen travels to Oman to be with Gary who has had to travel five hours out of the city to the mountains, but leaves specific instructions for her to travel onwards to meet him. Upon arriving at her destination, she hears noises from an adjacent room - large crashing noises. She enters to see a glass floating in mid air. Nervously she speaks out asking yes or no questions - knock once for yes and twice for no! She asks if it is Lewis to which there is a positive response and she asks if he is at peace to which he also answers yes, but the knocking is very loud, as if angry. Further questions ensue, leaving us hanging with Maureen's final question which will leave you the audience questioning her concluding sentence and debating the outcome long after the credits have rolled.

Stewart appears in almost every scene within the film and she carries the film in a career defining performance exhibiting many characteristics of a lost soul who is unable to move on with her life until a life defining moment manifests itself spiritually. And in the meantime she gets on with her everyday hum drum life in the way she knows how dealing with various challenges along the way including an unknown serial text stalker, a job she hates, a city she can't leave, and various connections with the nether world. She shows us that she can do sullen, tearful, frightened, freaked-out, vacant, wanting and obsessive all within the same character that makes Stewart's performance so watchable and such a departure from her previous work. This is a slow burn and takes a while to come up to speed, but when it finally does ramp up in the second half patience will be rewarded by a genre breaking story that is intriguing, mysterious, confusing and compelling all at once. This film will not please everyone because of its slow meandering pace, its mishmash of story lines, the lose ends left hanging, and the questions left unanswered as the screen fades to black, but for others, this will add to the attraction.

-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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