A- A A+

Ghosts of grief in modern, secular Paris

1 Comment
Tim Kroenert |  18 April 2017

 

Personal Shopper (MA). Director: Olivier Assayas. Starring: Kristen Stewart. 105 minutes

Maureen (Stewart) is a medium. At least, she might be — she's not sure. Cynical about the prospect of any kind of afterlife, she spends the early part of Personal Shopper holed up in an old Parisian mansion, trying to commune with the spirit of her recently deceased twin brother. Her experiences there, spooky as they may be, don't proffer any conclusive answers for her or the audience.

Maureen is currently employed by a difficult and demanding fashion model as a personal shopper; literally, she spends her paid working days buying clothes, shoes and jewellery for someone else. The juxtaposition of the pure materialistic focus of this work, and her doubt-riven incursions into the spiritual realm, is intriguing, even if it is almost too on-point not to be jarring.

Many of Maureen's interactions are mediated by technology. She has a boyfriend, but he is never physically present, appearing to her via Skype. Often we watch on as she frowns over her phone, reading and responding to text messages. Or the camera peers over her shoulder as she watches a video while travelling from Paris to London by train, disconnected from the people and places around her.

Kristen Stewart in Personal ShopperEven her most sustained engagement with the spiritual realm is so mediated. Maureen begins receiving text messages from a mysterious stranger, whom she suspects is a ghost.Assayas' direction and Marion Monnier's astute editing integrate these modern technologies into the fabric of the film, to both build suspense and to underscore Maureen's sense of alienation.

 

"It is a profound consideration of the processing of grief in a secular, consumerist society."

 

Stewart is captivating in the role. The erstwhile star of the Twilight franchise was once the subject of a meme lampooning an alleged lack of emotional range. But her expressiveness is in fact copious in its small details. Her deceptively opaque tone and mannerisms are perfectly suited to a character who at times appears passive but is endlessly grappling with complex ideas and emotions.

Personal Shopper was booed at Cannes (booing is a famous pastime at France's premiere film festival). It's easy to see why it was divisive. Its plot is a patchwork of riddles, many of which are left frustratingly unanswered. Still, it is at worst a suitably eerie contemporary ghost story, and at best a fresh and profound consideration of the processing of grief in a secular, consumerist society.

 


Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is editor of Eureka Street.

 



Comments

Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Submitted comments

" the prospect of any kind of afterlife". In Genesis, God is shown as taking steps to ensure that 'man' does NOT live forever. Yet is seems to have been an innate desire throughout the ages. Aristotle suggested there were intimations of it in the fact that we have a capacity for harbouring truths that are necessary, universal and eternal, such as mathematical axioms. Young humans seem to face a future of unlimited growth and development, with no initial concept of it ending. I remember a 10 year old boy, faced with the death of an aunt, commenting, "When I was young, I thought I would live forever". Religions generally use such an incentive to promote their authority over their followers. Perhaps an indication of one aspect is in the old song about John Brown's soul which 'goes marching on'. Just as the flap of a distant butterfly's wing might cause an avalanche far away, so our spirit can live on in the mind and hearts of those who love us, spreading influence like the ripple in still water spreads out endlessly. The old concept seems to have negative effect with the advent of suicide bombers killing others for 'paradise'.

Robert Liddy 20 April 2017

Similar articles

Life before suicide

1 Comment
Tim Kroenert | 30 March 2017

A film about a lonely widower who repeatedly attempts suicide seems like a grim proposition. Ove has suffered one too many blows in his life, the latest being the loss of his job. He finds himself at a loose end, if not purposeless. He is the self-appointed overseer of the gated community where he has lived for years, enforcing protocols of behaviour among his terrorised neighbours. Now he's had enough, and decides to join his beloved wife Sonja, in eternity. But dying doesn't come easily to Ove.


The time-traveller's strife

Tim Kroenert | 22 March 2017

All stories that deal with time travel will come up against paradoxes. Generally the success of the story will come down to how capably these paradoxes are dealt with, and how consistently with the story's internal logic. Otto Bloom turns on the concept of time as an extension of the physical dimensions. If time is as tangible as physical space, then all events in time are occurring simultaneously. That we perceive time as moving in a particular direction is a feature of our human consciousness.


Penetrating the cult of secrecy and abuse

1 Comment
Tim Kroenert | 15 March 2017

The power of Jones' film comes from bringing us the faces and voices of the victims in the present day; to hear in their words and see in their manner the ongoing trauma of those experiences. It is a timely and illuminating exploration of the impacts of child abuse, arriving during a period when many of our Australian institutions, religious and otherwise, have been facing the probing spotlight of a royal commission for behaviour that was at times equally as secretive, and traumatic.


Interracial romance's antidote to cultural appropriation

2 Comments
Tim Kroenert | 08 March 2017

Mildred would later say of Frank that 'he always took care of me'. Yet this telling of the story shows a more mutual exchange of strength and support than such a statement might imply. The Lovings' entanglement with the state of Virginia would ultimately lead to constitutional change in favour of interracial marriage, and Loving portrays Ruth as the main agent of the battle. At a time when cultural appropriation has become much talked about, this film by a white filmmaker shows a different way.


Faith is torture in Scorsese's Silence

6 Comments
Tim Kroenert | 22 February 2017

It is the story of two 17th century Portuguese Jesuits who travel to Japan to locate their former mentor, who is said to have renounced his faith, and to spread Catholicism. They find the local Christian populations have been driven underground, under threat of torture and execution. The lesson they come to learn against this fraught backdrop is that the living out of religious faith and the strengths and limitations of ordinary humanity cannot be considered in isolation from each other.