Olivier Assayas’ Ghost Story PERSONAL SHOPPER is a Pale Imitation of Previous Triumphs

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Kristen Stewart as Maureen Cartwright in Olivier Assayas’s PERSONAL SHOPPER. Photo by Carole Bethuel. Courtesy of IFC Films. An IFC Films release.

Kristen Stewart’s characters in Olivier Assayas films tend to keep friends, family, and colleagues at a distance while doggedly pursuing an agenda. She continues this trend established in 2015’s “The Clouds of Sils Maria” into their most recent collaboration “Personal Shopper”. Another film in the former film critic’s oeuvre making a statement about the way people produce and consume media, “Personal Shopper” attempts to use its bully pulpit to rail against the impulse to mediate experience but fails through its reliance on clumsily executed set pieces.

Stewart’s Maureen and her twin Lewis are mediums, communicating with the dead. After her twin’s passing, Maureen remains in Paris to attempt post-mortal contact. In the meantime, she works an unfulfilling job for a demanding boss (Nora von Waldstätten) as a fashion buyer. Like most Stewart characters, her inner conflict manifests itself through a twitchy restlessness tightly packed into the actress’ small frame, which is gaunt, hunched, and wrapped in a leather jacket throughout most of the film. Stewart’s performance perfectly portrays someone more comfortable exploring a land of spirits than making her way in the land of the living. Read more

New York Film Festival 50: Pi and Kubrick in the Sky

The opening night film for this year’s New York Film Festival presented the world premiere of Life of Pi, Ang Lee’s adaptation of the beloved 2001 novel by Canadian writer Yann Martell. Introducing the press screening, Lee joked that this project violated all three of the things directors are warned against working with–children, animals, water–add a fourth one, he shot it in 3D. He also noted that it was a challenge for him to make a film about faith. “Life of Pi” is about a boy (Pi, short for Piscine) from India, played by 19-year-old newcomer Suraj Sharma, who is so curious about religion he practices three of them. His father owns the animals in a zoo,  and in one harrowing scene Pi’s father teaches the young boy why he should not be sentimental about animals. Bad times force the family to sail to Canada, along with their animals (which they’ve sold to North American buyers.) A shipwreck puts Pi and a fierce Bengal tiger (named Richard Parker) into a lifeboat together.

The bulk of the film is taken up by Pi’s 200-plus days adrift, trying to keep himself and the tiger alive. The difficulty filming these scenes is what made the novel seem un-adaptable for years but Lee and crew have succeeded brilliantly. Never, for one second–for example–did I believe that the Richard Parker on screen wasn’t a real tiger. (The tiger, in fact, turns in one of the best performances you will see this year!) I’m no fan of 3D, especially since I wear glasses and two pair of lenses make it difficult to watch 3D; the 3D is as good as it gets here but I think the film would be just as visually awe-inspiring in 2D. The scenes of Pi’s inventiveness as he figures out how to keep the tiger at bay and gradually establish a mutual existence are captivating. Occasional fantasy sequences illustrating Pi’s longing for others are poetic and visually stunning. Read more