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Personal Shopper – The Criterion Collection (Blu-ray Review)

Following a few trips to the past, The Criterion Collection has once again sent me a modern film that also happens to be one of the better films of the year. Personal Shopper competed at the Cannes Film Festival back in 2016. Writer/director Olivier Assayas won the best director award for this movie. The story focuses on a fashion assistant who is also a spiritual medium, making it a ghost story of sorts. It’s another example of how capable Kristen Stewart is as an actress outside the realm of blockbusters and finds Assayas continuing to explore modernism and heartbreak. The film made its way to theaters nearly a year later and is now a part of Criterion’s catalogue.

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Film:

Set mostly in Paris, Stewart stars as Maureen, the personal shopper for Kyra (Nora von Waldstatten), a European celebrity. When not going to various European capitals to shop for clothes and jewelry for Kyra, Maureen spends time at her late brother’s home, hoping for a sign from him from the other side. The two were twins, interested in Spiritism and shared a genetic heart condition. We are presented with a story of grief, as Maureen finds herself receiving possible messages from beyond through modern modes of communication (her iPhone).

It was interesting to see this film in the year that also gave me A Ghost Story and The Killing of a Sacred Deer. Personal Shopper is ultimately more effective than the David Lowery feature, as I was far more into the level of expanse going on here, as opposed to the minimalist experiment involving a man under a sheet. The recent Yorgos Lanthimos effort has a similar air of mystery to the extent of where things are going early on, but it’s just a way of celebrating the sort of arthouse horror that I’ve been happy to see this year.

While I wouldn’t call myself an expert on Assayas (though I’m certainly curious to see his earlier films pre-Summer Hours), Personal Shopper continues to delve into the director’s curiosity with pushing characters to their limits in authentic ways. Now that may be putting aside his period film Carlos, which focuses on a famed terrorist, but this movie also follows Clouds of Sils Maria, another film where Assayas had characters portraying people on the fringe of celebrity life. As such, Stewart’s role in this movie is to portray someone who may deal with some extreme situations, as this is a psychological thriller of sorts but spends the time providing a naturalistic performance with other characters, presented matter-of-factly.

It is seeing the details that make the film stand out for its style. Beyond the possible portrayal of ghosts, this movie is deceptively flashy in the way the camera follows characters around and finds different ways to cue one’s attention. Be it the framing of the various shops and warehouses where the clothes come from or the establishing shots of hotels and homes Maureen visits, a great atmosphere is created here, while not going overboard in being a ghost story or an arthouse drama. Personal Shopper is most certainly both of those things, but it engages by way of character interactions and mood.

Stewart is fittingly cast here, as her presence has the sort of indifference that has defined her Hollywood persona. Assayas also must have found some humor of placing this character into the world of fashion, as Maureen is constantly around ostentatious material items in the midst of going through a psychological study of herself. It all adds up to a strong central performance committed to ideas of being alone, understanding death and even coming of age.

It would be easy to call Personal Shopper Hitchcockian, but even he would be challenged by the patience this film has in mounting suspense. What does stand out is Assayas’ cinematic eye, which shares Hitchcock’s display of voyeurism. Thanks to the naturalistic performances and quiet study of Maureen’s character (and a cell phone stalker), the film finds a way to work as a meditation on death, with some undertones that extend the movie beyond just being a drama. The results are quite effective and intriguingly leave one curious.


Video:

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Clarity/Detail:

Depth: There are no surprises here. Assayas made a modern feature that was professionally done and this video transfer is clean and rich with detail. The level of clarity in both brightly lit locations and darker homes comes through with a great level of balance throughout.

Black Levels: There are some nighttime scenes that do a fine job of showing just how deep and inky the black levels are throughout. It all blends nicely with whatever lighter elements occupy the same space at the time.

Color Reproduction: Given the presence of the fashion world, there are lots of rooms full of clothes and jewelry that provide an exceptional level of color. It all looks natural enough and pops when necessary.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures are great. We are treated to plenty of shots of these characters at varying distances, and the clarity is always strong.

Noise/Artifacts: This film is clean.

 

Audio:

Audio Format(s): English and French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: This lossless track does a fine job of representing the film that was made. By that, I mean the sense of quiet that occupies much of this film, letting a lot of the atmosphere do the work, hits appropriately. That said, the range coming through thanks to various speaking parts and some use of music plays nicely as well.

Low-Frequency Extension: There is one major moment involving the presence in a house that provides a chance for the LFE channel to work. Not a significant force for the film, but it’s there.

Surround Sound Presentation: Thanks to the 5.1 lossless soundtrack, there is nothing to miss out on regarding the balance found throughout. The front and center channels do their job, and the rear channels are brought in when necessary.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everybody is heard.

 

Extras:

While the interviews are good to hear, this release is relatively light on extra features. Perhaps Assayas was happier let the film stand as is.

Features Include:

  • The Presence of the Invisible – Interview with Olivier Assayas (HD, 16:56) – Assayas discusses how he developed the concept for the film, some production aspects and more.
  • 2016 Cannes Film Festival Press Conference (HD, 45:33) – This press conference features Olivier Assayas, Kristen Stewart and other cast and crew members. There are some pretty blunt answers to specific questions that were surprising to hear from Assayas.
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:00)
  • PLUS – An essay by critic Glenn Kenny

 

Summary:

Personal Shopper finds Assayas working once again in a contemporary atmosphere. He effectively puts natural performances on the screen in a film that war more thrilling than I had expected. This Criterion release features an excellent technical presentation, with fantastic video and audio transfers. A bit light on the extras, but still another great release that fits alongside The Clouds of Sils Maria.

 

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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