Maureen (Stewart) is an American in Paris earning a meagre living as a personal shopper for difficult celebrity model Kyra (von Waldstatten). Despite hating the job and her employer, Maureen feels she can't move on as she's 'waiting for something': her twin brother, a medium, has recently died of the same heart defect she possess and they promised each that who would ever die first would send them a sign from the afterlife. Maureen, boasting the same psychic powers as her brother, is asked by friends if she can feel a presence in the country home they are thinking of buying…
Personal Shopper has to be the busiest Oliver Assayas - The Clouds of Sils Maria (also starring Kristen Stewart in a somewhat similar role), Something In The Air – film to date and yet the writer-director's knack of slowing everything down to a crawl remains intact. That sounds like a criticism but Assayas' usual knack for unhurried pacing/patient storytelling works in Personal Shopper's favour: he has crafted a film of eeriness and sullen mood that taps into his protagonist's mental state. "You need to avoid intense physical efforts and extreme emotions," a doctor warns Maureen at one point – that's Personal Shopper summed up in a nutshell. Stewart, who has actively sought out roles that differ greatly than her star-making Bella (The Runaways, Welcome To The Rileys, Certain Women) isn't stretched here but it's still her most commanding performance for some time.
With a myriad of stories battling for the limelight, for long stretches one wonders what Assayas is up to. There’s Maureen's desire to connect with her brother and that sense of loss and grief stalks her; there's a theme of wanting to be another person (Maureen can't resist trying on the clothes destined for Kyra); there's something about a German artist at the turn of the 20th century who wished her work not to be displayed until the future; there's the shopping; there's the ghost; who is texting her? and there's the murder case, a late development that confuses even further.
It certainly keeps one guessing. Is Assayas attempting to gaslight the audience and influence it through suggestion because loose connections abound: there is the repetition of certain words and the use of Marlene Dietrich's Das Hobellied could tie into Maureen's fascination with that German artist. That could all be nonsense but the regular downtime allows one to ponder all this without losing the narrative thread.