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Kristen Stewart is Hauntingly Captivating in ‘Personal Shopper’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 3.0/5.0
Rating: 3.0/5.0

CHICAGO – I’ve had a deep fascination with ghost stories since I was a kid. There is something both interesting and terrifying knowing that there are often unseen forces we could be encountering in our everyday life. Olivier Assayas creates an unexplainable phantasm thriller in “Personal Shopper” that remains completely captivating throughout even if you don’t understand what you just experienced.

Kristen Stewart bares one of her best performances in ‘Personal Shopper’
Photo credit: IFC Films

There is an unmistakable style that permeates from all of Olivier Assayas’ projects. There is an effortless naturalism that is ever present in his films, whether it comes from the performances or the physical locations. In the absorbing film “Clouds of Sils Maria,” Assayas explores the shifting role of nature as both the geographical force and the more human aspects of it when it comes to aging. Everything is tied together beautifully and made into complementary metaphors that apply to both the people and the places. “Personal Shopper” offers a more cluttered narrative that talks about the nature of people, both dead and alive.

There are so many themes and ideas swirling around in “Personal Shopper” that sometimes it is hard to identify them or even place how they fit into the story as a whole. Even though the film is mesmerizing, it is obviously compensating for a story only meant to highlight the visuals and performances. The biggest theme in the film is being who you want to be versus being who you think society wants you to be.This is an especially powerful theme for women in the fashion industry where the devil not only wears Prada but, on deeper examination, perhaps the devil is Prada and companies like it that perpetuate extremist standards of beauty. Even when dealing with all the ghosts from the past, this film takes a look at some of our real life demons and dresses them up in gorgeous designer outfits to show the seductive nature of darkness.

Stewart gives and emotional and vulnerable performance in ‘Personal Shopper’
Photo credit: IFC Films

Assayas always plays to his strengths, using familiar themes and locations in his films. One of the newer elements is Kristen Stewart and witnessing her evolution as an actress, especially considering her “Twilight” origins. In the role of assistant in Assayas’ previous film, she showed us a depth and range we had only glimpsed at before. Assayas obviously sees this same quality in her because at its core, “Personal Shopper” was made as a vehicle to show Stewart’s growth as an artist. She takes complete command of the screen, able to keep our attention on her even when we have no idea what is going on. She is our Charon who guides us through this dark trip into chic Hades. Since much of the film centers around her character, Stewart becomes our emotional center letting us know what we should be feeling, especially when the story leaves us far behind.

Unlike ghosts, “Personal Shopper” is anything but transparent. There is a dense mess of thematic and visual elements fighting for your attention, but the emerging winner is the style and the Stewart. There is something powerful in a film that can engage with the audience and leave them feeling completely satisfied, but without a clue of what the hell just happened.

“Personal Shopper” opens everywhere on March 24th. Featuring Kristen Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Nora von Waldstätten, Anders Danielsen Lie, Sigrid Bouaziz and Ty Olwin. Screenplay by Olivier Assayas. Directed by Olivier Assayas. Rated “R”

Jon Espino, film and video game critic, HollywoodChicago.com

Film & Video Game Critic

© 2016 Jon Espino, HollywoodChicago.com

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