Personal Shopper: more than a fluff party


It’s rare that someone writes in a way about a film that has you rethinking your entire belief system. This is one such case.

maeshelle west-davies

Although it has been suggested, I don’t normally do film reviews or discussions so this post is a bit different to what you might be used to. But this film really resonated with me more than any film I have seen before and I wanted to share it with you and basically, anyone who will listen. I caught it on the plane back home. We were landing as the film reached its denouement so I had to watch the final act of the film without sound but closed caption subtitles (because they collect those earphone things before landing).

I’m not a fan of Kristen Stewart.

I generally avoid films with her in it after seeing one of the Twilight films. I had seen a few of her before then, but that just made it final for me: She’s a horrible actress. But then I read about Personal Shopper and everyone seemed to be raving about how great she was. Um, sure. I wasn’t convinced.

Even though the film was sold as a horror/thriller (in one review I read), I still had no interest in seeing it. You don’t understand how much I enjoy the horror/thriller genre, but everything I have seen recently has been too formulaic for me.

I used to devour horror/thriller novels as a teenager, sometimes reading three different books at a time, so nothing feels fresh or new. No plot twist is a surprise. Alladem: meh. So I don’t know why I watched this. Maybe because I was on the plane, had time to kill and it was there. But I did. And I’m really glad for having done so.

It is officially, my favourite film.

Shut up. Close your mouth. Let go of your pearls. Let me explain.


Okay, so since I was a kid, I would see dead people. We constantly had them around the house. Some of you might call them departed, or spirits, or dead people, or apparitions. Whatever you call them, our family would see them. Some of us saw and experienced them more than others, to varying degrees.

And when I say “experienced”, I mean that the “sighting” was often more than just visual. It included getting cold all of a sudden or having the hair on your body stand on end. A smell. It was a sensory experience.

Which is why I felt such a strong connection to the kid in The Sixth Sense. Even though I do not see dead people as clearly or as often as he does, I could relate to parts of the film. My experiences, or our experiences as a family, had never been documented on film in that way before. The dead were always portrayed as extremely malevolent (Poltergeist, Paranormal Activity) or cute and funny (Casper, Ghost Dad) and it never seemed real. So The Sixth Sense was the realest.

Until Personal Shopper, that is.

Still reading? Good.

Synopsis: Maureen, a young American (Kristen) in Paris works as a personal shopper for a celebrity. She seems to have the ability to communicate with spirits, like her recently deceased twin brother. Her twin brother Lewis recently died from a heart attack; they shared the same genetic heart problem. They were both interested in spiritism and believed they had connections to the spirit world. Soon, she starts to receive ambiguous messages from an unknown source.

I’ve worked in the fashion industry for just over 9 years now.

I fell into it, long story. And while there, I managed to work across different spheres of marketing. Directing shoots has led me to often be the one selecting the merchandise I would like to shoot, which includes shoes and accessories. So although I’m not a stylist or a personal shopper, I could relate to that part of her character as well. The way she felt the fabric of the merchandise and looked at the accessories before deciding. How she would appear to be aloof but is actually just thinking about what the best combination of clothing and accessories would be. Visualizing it in her head as she speaks to you, looking at more items.

Then shifting from that to how she experiences the dead in this film. Her being alone in a foreign country. Dealing with a client who constantly changes her mind. Trying to communicate with a deceased sibling. When she starts getting strange messages and the way she doubts herself when she does get a sign, because she needs an even bigger/clearer/bolder sign. Everything. I, related, to everything. In a way I never have to a film or character ever before.

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) in Personal Shopper, copyright Carole Bethuel

I don’t know. I guess this post is more about me, my experiences and how I related to this film than the actual film. Maybe if you see it, you’ll feel differently. It will all be foreign and you won’t even make it past the 00:30:00 mark. Or, you’ll feel like you need to stop watching when you reach that scene with the ghost in the house. I rolled my eyes so hard at that. But once the film was done, I looked at the scene differently. I understood the importance of the scene.

Sometimes I have dead people scare the hell out of me, and they make their presence known. You see them. You feel them. They are in your face. On your wall. Sitting on your chest as you try to pray them away, too scared to open your eyes again. And other times they are soothing. Barely there but you feel comforted knowing that they are there because it’s someone you know. And at the same time you’re not sure. But you are. Because what if it isn’t. But you’re sure it is. Or are you? How can you be? You know what I mean?

Kristen is really good in this film though. It was like watching one of the many stylists I have worked with. And I don’t just mean about how she does her job as a stylist, but also the way she speaks about what she does. Then as a medium. As a person looking to communicate with the dead. A sibling left behind in the world of the living, looking for answers. When she communicates with the empty space around her, asking for a sign from her brother, you believe it. Or at least I did. It all felt legit. She seemed so comfortable in all her uncertainty and fear, and convincing in her repulsion for the fashion industry and the work she does.

I’ve spoken to a few people about this film. Friends and family who experience the dead in the same way I have. My sister asked something interesting, which I had not thought of. She asked who had written it and why they wrote it. Did they experience it the same way or was it, to them, nothing more than telling a fictitious story. A story they had formulated after seeing a film or reading a book about a medium?

Writer/Director Olivier Assayas with Kristen Stewart copyright Carole Bethuel

The film was written and directed by Olivier Assayas, a French director, writer and film critic. Up until this point, I’ve not heard of him. So I’ve started trawling the internet trying to find out more about this man and his work. He had apparently written the role for Kristen after working with her on another film of his, Clouds of Sils Maria. She had won a César Award for her role in said film, making her the first non-French actress to do so.

In an interview with Assayas, he claims to have written this role because of Kristen, stating that she’s “the best actress of her generation” side eyes this brah and that he doesn’t think he would’ve written this role were it not for her.

He goes on to say that he has never seen a ghost but that he has conversations with the departed. Which makes the scene with the vomiting ghost even more interesting for me. Maybe he’s just an exceptionally good story teller, with parts of this story being based on experience, the rest inspired by his love for film. I haven’t seen any of his other films, but this has become a part of my “To Do” list going forward. Yes, this one film has me so moved and intrigued that I now want to see this director’s entire filmography and if they also have any references to the paranormal or after life. Could I relate to any of his other characters in the same way I have to Maureen?

By Liam Booysen

Originally published on author’s blog

Liam Booysen. Cape Town. Creative Director. Appreciator of good food and bad films. Have to stop myself from touching people’s tattoos. Orphan.

Personal Shopper

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