At Cannes 2016, French filmmaker Olivier Assayas won Best Director for Personal Shopper, a scary, supernatural thriller starring Kristen Stewart as an American living in Paris and trying to connect with her twin brother who recently died. This marks Stewart’s second outing with Assayas, following Clouds of Sils Maria, resulting in her becoming the first American actress to receive a César award.
Maureen (Stewart) is a personal shopper who scoots around upscale Paris – with a side trip to London – buying pricey couture fashions for her celebrity client (Nora von Waldstätten of Assayas’s Carlos). Maureen also moonlights as a medium who relates to the likes of writer Victor Hugo and artist Hilma af Klint, both of whom communed with the beyond. Trying to receive any sort of sign from her brother, Maureen pays a visit to a dark mansion in the woods. Is that a ghost in the corner? Then she begins receiving mysterious phone texts.
“Personal Shopper” isn’t just a story about a young woman trying to connect with her brother across the beyond, it’s also a story about how technology shapes the way people remember the dead and process their absence. Spiritualists are highlighted so it’s only normal that Maureen is constantly staring at her iPhone, using it to google the paintings of Swedish mystic Hilma af Klint or watch an amusing clip from a (fake) old TV drama in which Victor Hugo conducts a hokey séance.
Assayas was looking for another project to work on with Stewart whom he has often called his muse. He decided to write this story with the confidence that it was the right fit for her and something that she could relate to.
We spoke during the Toronto International Film Festival last September where he told me that the movie is not about shopping but more about what this personal shopper experiences in her job.
"It’s a movie about the tension between, obviously, the kind of day job people have and their longings, which are much more, possibly, a little bit more ambitious or complex. I think I wanted the character of Maureen to have, not exactly the most stupid job, but certainly the most alienating job. I don’t think that just shopping for a celebrity, I don’t think there’s something that’s much more alienating than that." Assayas stated during our interview.
"It’s not that I have anything really bad to say about the fashion industry, but still, it’s become the epitome of something that has to do with materialism and money and a culture of fame and this and that. So I think it’s fairly easy to understand why someone like Maureen, like her character, has an uneasy relationship with that job and that world."
Olivier Assayas, who has been directing films for decades also wrote and directed the critically acclaimed films Clouds of Sils Maria, Something in the Air and Carlos.
Below is my entire interview with Olivier Assayas who discusses among many other interesting topics what it is about him and Kristen Stewart that works so well when they collaborate on film.
PERSONAL SHOPPER opens March 24 in Toronto (Bell Lightbox), Vancouver (Vancity) and Montreal!
The film opens April 7 in Ottawa and throughout the spring in other cities.