Olivier Assayas and Kristen Stewart consult the video assist during the filming of Personal Shopper.
Personal Shopper ***
By day, Maureen (Kristen Stewart) haunts the premium racks looking to outfit her vainglorious celebrity boss Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten). By night, she’s a paranormalist eager to connect with her dead brother’s spirit. (The two made a Houdini pact in which the first to die swore to contact the other.) Presented with what’s easily her most challenging role to date, Stewart crushed it. For his second collaboration with the actress, Olivier Assayas once again relies on sleight of hand to peel back layers of movie star celebrity armor simply by reassigning it to another character, in this case client Kyra. The result is a broodingly erotic, at times hard to fathom, but always elegantly filmed portrait of modern alienation. Throw in a dash of unexpected humor and some rightly spectral — at times, outright ingenious — special effects, and the time flies by faster than the spirited CG ectoplasm.
Olivier Assayas is far from his twilight years. Assayas and I were both born in 1955. That comes as kind of a surprise when one considers how steadily the director’s films radiate the mood and energy of an artist who appears to be living life everlastingly in his late 30s.
Perhaps it’s this vitality and a career that spans 40 years that caught the eye of one of the biggest movie names on the planet — it’s a gutsy role for Kristen Stewart. Or maybe it was the mood of his latest creation? Few actresses currently at work are more qualified than she is to carry out modern-day alienation.
Personal Shopper opens Friday at the Angelika Film Center, AMC Mission Valley, AMC La Jolla, and potentially a few more multiplexes near you. Check here for the latest showtimes.
Scott Marks: What frightens you more, ghosts or the concept of someone who is so rich and comfortable that they hire someone to do their personal shopping for them?
Olivier Assayas (laughing): I think that Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) in my film is someone who is like some kind of nightmare celebrity. She’s not an actress. She’s just someone who is completely a creature of social media. What can be more scary than that?
When I deal with ghosts, I am also dealing with inner anxieties that we all have to live with in one way or another. We all have a complex relationship with our own identity, in the sense that we all have a subconscious and we are all driven by things we do and don’t understand. That can be very scary. In the film, what I call ghosts are ultimately the inner fears of the character.
SM: Why does Kyra get so bent out of shape when her personal shopper tries on her clothes?
OA: I like the idea when Maureen (Kristen Stewart) puts on Kyra’s clothes she’s doing something forbidden. It’s not for fun. It’s not playful. It’s something which has to do with the eroticism of breaking rules. I suppose that’s what drew me to the concept.
It also has to do with alienation. It’s the idea that Maureen is not just doing something that is completely alienating in the sense of collecting clothes for someone she hardly sees.
SM: Kristen Stewart does remarkably well for herself when she works with A-list directors and avoids choosing films with the word “Twilight” in their title. This is your second collaboration. How did one of the biggest movie stars on the planet find her way into the relatively small, intensely personal types of films that you’re known for?
OA: We were brought together through my producer, Charles Gillibert. He produced On the Road, the Walter Salles film with Kristen. He kept assuring me that I needed to meet her, that she was someone I would get along with.
Producers always say that in hope of seducing you into using a big star. I was curious because I liked a lot of the films I had seen her in, starting with Sean Penn’s Into the Wild. When we met, I instantly liked her.
When you deal with actors who are very famous, there is this notion that there is a lot they can bring to your film. Ultimately it’s a question of what the film would give them. I realized very early in our relationship that what I could give her is space. It’s time, it’s freedom to give her space for her acting in ways that the movies she’s been doing in Hollywood don’t give her.
It’s the message. When we were doing Clouds of Sils Maria it was like, “It’s okay to be yourself. It’s okay to try things and to be natural.” I think she enjoyed every minute of it.
SM: Ironically, she played a personal shopper of sorts in her role as Valentine in Clouds of Sils Maria. In your third film together, will you finally allow her a valet of her own?
OA (laughing): I’ve always been convinced that what’s most fascinating about her is the real Kristen. She’s certainly not the way the media characterizes her.
SM: If you could remake one of your movies, which one would it be?
OA: Remake one of my movies? That’s interesting. Possibly...you know, I think I would like to do Demonlover again. That’s the one movie that would be interesting to be revisited. I think it would also be fun to do Clouds of Sils Maria again with another cast. It’s like a play. Depending on who is playing Maria and who is playing Valentine, it’s a completely different film.