David Strat­ton

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Per­sonal Shop­per has been de­scribed as a su­per­nat­u­ral thriller, and in a way it is — but you’ll be tremen­dously dis­ap­pointed if you go to see it ex­pect­ing something in the Ex­or­cist tra­di­tion. More than any­thing else, the lat­est film from French di­rec­tor Olivier As­sayas, which won him the best di­rec­tor award (shared) at Cannes last year, is a love let­ter to its Amer­i­can lead ac­tress, the re­mark­able Kris­ten Ste­wart.

From the start of her ca­reer as a child ac­tress in films such as Panic Room (2002), in which, at the age of nine, she played Jodie Foster’s daugh­ter, Ste­wart has made a strong im­pres­sion with her in­tel­li­gent, thought­ful per­for­mances, whether in high-pro­file pop­u­lar films such as the Twi­light se­ries or in small-scale films aimed at mi­nor­ity au­di­ences. Per­sonal Shop­per, which falls into the lat­ter cat­e­gory, is the se­cond French film she has made with As­sayas, fol­low­ing Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), in which she played the per­sonal as­sis­tant to a fa­mous ac­tress (Juli­ette Binoche). She has a some­what sim­i­lar role here as Mau­reen Cartwight, an Amer­i­can liv­ing in Paris and work­ing as an as­sis­tant to a wealthy su­per­star/so­cialite known only as Kyra (Nora von Wald­stat­ten). Mau­reen and her em­ployer mostly com­mu­ni­cate by phone, and the young woman’s job is to visit var­i­ous high-end fash­ion shops and se­lect gowns for Kyra to wear. She’s strictly for­bid­den from try­ing on these hugely ex­pen­sive de­signer gar­ments her­self.

We first meet Mau­reen in very dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, how­ever, as she vis­its a lonely house she be­lieves may be haunted. We learn that she is a twin, and that she and her brother, Lewis, shared a con­gen­i­tal heart con­di­tion. The sib­lings be­lieved they could make con­tact with dead peo­ple, and made a com­pact that whichever twin died first would com­mu­ni­cate with the sur­vivor. Lewis has re­cently died and his part­ner, Lara (Si­grid Bouaziz), has brought Mau­reen to this empty house where Lewis had spent some time.

Af­ter ex­pe­ri­enc­ing what ap­pears to be a ghostly pres­ence but fail­ing to make ac­tual con­tact with her dead brother, Mau­reen starts get­ting text mes­sages from Un­known, who seems to know ex­actly where she is and what she is do­ing at any given time. Could this be Lewis? Or is there some other ex­pla­na­tion? And what can we ex­pect when Un­known lures Mau­reen to a room in a ho­tel?

One of the key se­quences in this in­trigu­ing film takes place dur­ing a brief trip Mau­reen makes to London on the in­struc­tions of her em­ployer. Trav­el­ling on the Eurostar from Paris through the Chan­nel Tun­nel, Mau­reen is bom­barded with texts from Un­known, mes­sages that seem both fas­ci­nat­ing and sin­is­ter. In fact, few films have used the tech­nol­ogy of the smart­phone in the way As­sayas does through­out this movie.

Ul­ti­mately Per­sonal Shop­per moves into mur­der-mys­tery ter­ri­tory, but don’t ex­pect to find neat ex­pla­na­tions for ev­ery­thing. As­sayas likes to keep his au­di­ence guess­ing, right up to the clos­ing cred­its. And be­ing a film buff him­self, he also likes to ref­er­ence the cin­ema of the masters, from Hitch­cock to Fritz Lang. But the film would be noth­ing with­out Ste­wart. You just can’t take your eyes off her, whether she’s in­volved in something wild and un­pre­dictable or just talk­ing into her phone. She’s a smart, mod­ern ac­tress and this strange, un­set­tling film is a per­fect show­case for her con­sid­er­able tal­ents. The Coun­try Doc­tor is also a French film, but an al­to­gether more con­ven­tional one. Nev­er­the­less, it’s a film of qual­ity that serves as a re­minder of the ded­i­ca­tion and com­mit­ment of peo­ple in the medical pro­fes­sion.

The ti­tle sets the scene. Jean-Pierre Werner (Fran­cois Cluzet) is a doc­tor based in a sprawl­ing farm­ing re­gion. He has cared for the peo­ple of his dis­trict for years and he’s more than a doc­tor to them: he’s a so­cial worker, ad­viser, friend, con­fi­dant. Early ev­ery morn­ing he makes house calls to pa­tients who are un­able to leave their homes; his surgery is filled with men and women of all ages as well as chil­dren. He is on call in case of emer­gency at all times. He has no wife, but he has a grown son who lives not far away. Per­sonal Shop­per (MA15+) Lim­ited re­lease from Thurs­day The Coun­try Doc­tor (Medecin de cam­pagne) (M) In lim­ited re­lease A Silent Voice (Koe no Kat­achi) (tbc) In lim­ited re­lease Per­sonal Shop­per, The Coun­try Doc­tor,

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