Personal Shopper, Oliver Assayas’ latest, is at once both a unique supernatural departure for the director as it is a familiar return to his thematic roots. Its familiarity is rooted in the distant sense of longing that it transmits, where it finds Maureen (Kristen Stewart) working one of her two jobs as a medium, attempting to communicate with her recently departed brother. Her attempts at finding meaning in the objects that orbit around her bares a connective throughline with Assayas’ 2009 film, Summer Hours, where in death the cultural capital of the physical takes on an alternative perspective. Yet the picture possesses another dimension, one that takes shape as we see Maureen at her other job as a personal shopper for a fashion celebrity that she rarely sees; again we find her in service of another, reinforcing that vague apparitions shape her personal and professional identities.
While Assayas has suggested that Personal Shopper is an extension of his excellent 2014 film Clouds of Sils Maria – and make no mistake, it bares many similar traits that sees Kristen Stewart’s character dutifully sacrifice her identity – the film that Personal Shopper most directly recalls is Assayas’ 1994 film Irma Vep. There’s even a sequence late into Personal Shopper where Stewart dons a black outfit intended for her boss that directly recalls Irma Vep’s identity crisis.
Yet the film’s fragmented qualities prove too oblique to amount to anything especially significant. Stewart’s presence is a highlight, as is some of the directorial flourishes that Assayas embraces – he makes some inspired choices in his ability to mount terror through the sound design of sending a text message. But as a whole the picture seems to lack a tactile element, and coming off something as monumental as Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper comes across as the Amnesiac to Clouds’ Kid A. Yet for some, that’s a preference.