By Richard Crouse – Metro Canada
Ghostbusting is supposed to make you feel good. If that’s true, why does Personal Shopper’s Maureen (played by Kristen Stewart) appear so miserable all the time? Perhaps it’s because the spirit she is trying to bust is that of her brother Lewis, a twin who died of a heart attack in a rambling, old Paris house.
In her second film with French director Olivier Assayas, the Twilight star gives a career topping performance, brittle yet calm in the face of mounting terror. There is a detached feel to the performance that recalls the remove Hitchcock’s leading ladies often projected as she navigates through personal tragedy and supernatural mystery.
“Kristen is the great actress of her generation,” says Assayas. “I feel very privileged to have this connection with her. It is miraculous to work with a young actress who realizes there is no end to what she can do. You tell her, ‘You can fly,’ and she doesn’t believe it and then she does it.
“I have always loved to work with young actors and actresses. You catch them at a moment when they are transforming and opening up. I think it is always interesting to work with actors when you can give them something. When you work with great actors who have done it all, it is very difficult because you give them something that they have already done better in another movie ten years before. “
Their previous collaboration, Clouds of Sils Maria, earned Stewart a rare honour. She was the first American actress to be nominated for and win a best supporting actress César award, the French equivalent of an Oscar.
“She is obsessed with breaking anything that could feel like routine,” he says. “She gives herself this rule of not doing what she would instinctively do. When you do a scene there is an obvious starting place. She never takes it. That’s what I love. As a writer I don’t want to see what I imagined, I want to see an actor who takes it, who appropriates it and does something else with it. That’s when it becomes real and human.”
“Usually I work with actors once, twice and after a while I realize we’ve gone all the way. With Kristen I think I could go on and on.”
Personal Shopper is a ghost story, so things take a strange turn when Maureen’s phone lights up with mysterious texts while she’s on a quick Chunnel trip to London. “R U real? R U alive or dead?” she writes, replying to the Unknown texter. “Tell me something you find unsettling,” comes the response, opening the door for Maureen to begin exploring her fears, phobias, digging deeper than she ever has.
“I don’t believe in the supernatural but I believe there is more to life than the material world. Science kind of proves it. There is so much going on that we can’t see because it is too small or too big or whatever. We have our own relationship with some invisible world. Each of us has his own version of it. You end up living with the departed. Each of us has an inner world which is much more complex than the material world. It’s much more fascinating in terms of cinema. I don’t think it is bizarre to try and connect with that.”