20.03.17 Personal Shopper
It's always interesting when you come across two reviews of the film you watched that diverge so differently. Empire magazine makes Personal Shopper out as a three-star movie (out of five), opening with the line, 'There's no one aspect of Olivier Assays' latest film that entirely works.' Elsewhere in 'review world,' The Guardian gives it five-out-of-five, and mentions the standing ovation it received at the Cannes film festival.
The 'star' system is a useful shorthand that I enjoy checking even if I don't use it myself. I know those stars can get you into trouble if you're a professional reviewer; I know people who won't read Empire magazine anymore, not since they gave five stars to Star Wars: The Clone Wars.
I don't use stars because my reviews are personal, are more about the mood. It's a useful perspective for enjoying Personal Shopper, a film that's more mood than plot. There is a plot, I'm not sure what it is, just like Kristen Stewart's protagonist can't work out the spiritual force that's stalking her – one she's willing to engage. Hers is the closest relationship I've seen to someone I once knew, who was perpetually drawn to someone destructive. That fascination in courting someone who finds you fascinating, allied to a fragile egotism, is the thing that drives Kristen's character and the film itself. Hers is a protagonist that doesn't connect with people, her dialogues are enigmatically short-shrift when she's talking to the living. We're effectively watching a person with gifts who rushes around uncaring of her gifts; I've never been to Paris and always wish I had when I was young, wish I'd learned French and gone there and worked there, and that I'd had some world-class talent to help me shine there. Kristen's character is all those things, dropping in at cutting-edge fashion houses and without emotion, making her selections for her super-rich employer. She stays at nice hotels nonplussed, travels around to make valued judgments on aesthetics, with what seems an unlimited budget. Paradoxically, she's dressed like she just got out of bed and her lecture's starting in ten minutes.
So her character's relatable, to be envied but not resented, and intriguingly detached from a world that most fashionistas would die for. There are spiritual forces at work, though there's also a twist two-thirds of the way through. At the end, there's an open question, and then the credits roll. It's that kind of film, not belonging to any one genre, so you're never quite sure in what direction the story's heading. I like these kinds of films, character-driven and anything can happen. I guess the Empire journalist I mentioned at the beginning prefers films that conform to a particular genre, and that if you're jumping around, generically, it's disorienting. Shall I follow his lead and break my own convention with a star-based verdict? But I don't think I will. I can say, though, I'm in disbelief at how Empire magazine gave the nonsensical, vacuous gun-porn movie John Wick II a better review (four stars!) than this suspenseful movie. I guess that's why I don't do stars.