Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Winner of the Prix de la Mis en Scene at the Cannes Film Festival, Olivier Assayas Delivers a Haunting Horror/Thriller in his Kristen Stewart Starrer PERSONAL SHOPPER.

Personal Shopper Review by Landon Funk

There is something so beautiful about going to see a film without knowing anything about it. I think that part of the problem with today’s film consumption culture is that we love to know the ending before we see the film. Whether that be through a review in Entertainment Weekly or a brief skim of Wikipedia while in line to buy a ticket, we want instant gratification.

But that is not what film is, and I had the pleasure of revisiting this antiquated, superior idea on Monday evening when I settled into my dead center of the room seat after purchasing a ticket to see PERSONAL SHOPPER at Nashville’s The Belcourt Theater.

There were about five other people in the theater with me, all of whom looked to be Vanderbilt grad students who had nothing better to do on a Monday night. As the opening credits started to roll, I realized that I was about to watch a French film that just happened to star Kristen Stewart. Even more surprising is that PERSONAL SHOPPER won the Prix de la Mis en Scene at the Cannes Film Festival in 2016- it was awarded to director Olivier Assayas.

The award is given to the “Best Director” of all the films in festival, and previous winners have included Joel Coen, David Lynch, and Alejandro Gozalez Inarritu. Knowing this, I immediately started to realize that I would be in for a treat, but, having grown up in the age of Twilight, I thought that there could be no way that Kristen Stewart was actually attached to a really well-done film.

Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper                                                                                    From Twitter
For starters, I realized that this film was a horror/thriller within minutes, a pleasant surprise for this lover of the macabre. Stewart plays a young woman named Maureen who lives in Paris and is trying to make a connection with her dead twin brother. While she “waits” for him, Maureen makes a living by being a personal shopper to a high-end fashion model. On one of her shopping errands, Maureen receives a text from a blocked number. She thinks that her brother is finally reaching out to her.

From start to finish, Assayas built suspense flawlessly. I often found myself on edge and able to feel my heart pounding in my chest. Furthermore, Stewart actually gave an incredible performance. As the film progressed, she added depth and desperation to her sad character. It was beautiful to watch. The most outstanding aspect of the film, however, was the text messages between Maureen and the unknown number. Like Maureen, I felt anxious and intrigued by the messages. Never have I seen modern communication executed so flawlessly on screen. Assayas and his team deserve an enormous well-done.

There only part of the film that I was not a big fan of were the end-of-scene fade outs. They were often harsh and startling, and I do not believe that they served any purpose other than to signal the end of a scene. Quite honestly, they were a bit hokey and took away from the otherwise excellent film. Like other French thrillers and horror, it is my opinion that PERSONAL SHOPPER would have been better had there been strict cuts between scenes.

 Image  from Twitter
French cinema is making a triumphant come back, and it has been a pleasure to watch it regain its top of the line status. From BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR to ELLE to RAW to PERSONAL SHOPPER, the French have figured out how to tap into the human psyche and make films that are unique yet realistic to the human experience. It is also the year of horror and thrillers, and, to me, there is nothing better than witnessing a well-executed horror film. I cannot wait to see what else comes out in this genre throughout the coming years. If PERSONAL SHOPPER is any indication, the world is in for a haunting treat.


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