Interview: Kristen Stewart and Olivier Assayas on ‘Personal Shopper’
In the indie drama Personal Shopper, Kristen Stewart finds herself at odds with her perceptions of reality.
Stewart plays Maureen, a young American woman with psychic abilities, living in Paris and trying to reconnect with her deceased twin brother. They made a pact that if one of them dies first, the other would contact them from the other side. As her day job, though, Maureen is a personal shopper for a supermodel, and when things turn mysterious, and then dangerous, Maureen has a tough time realizing what’s real and what may be in her mind.
Directed by Olivier Assayas, Personal Shopper is hard to pin down as to what kind of film it wants to be. Beautiful and esoteric, it also delves into the psyche of a lonely, grieving, isolated woman on the edge. At a recent press day, Assayas and Stewart talk about the film and what it represents, how it might relate to their other film Clouds of Sils Maria and more.
On creating this character:
Olivier Assayas: I had this image of this really lonely girl in Paris trying to find some consolation in her inner space, doing a job that she dislikes in the fashion industry. Someone who works in the superficial and that’s very frustrating. It doesn’t give her satisfaction. She finds protection in art, in her own imagination and somehow the tension between the two sides of her became accentuated in my process of writing the story. All of a sudden, it became someone who was in this ultra-alienating job, dressing someone else and trying to connect that has to do with another dimension. Ultimately, it has to do with connecting with her own subconscious.
On playing this broken woman:
Kristen Stewart: It’s a strange place to start with someone too because usually this person would pre-exist you and you need to substantiate them with every answer to every question. ‘Where are they from? Who are they? What are they into? What are their hopes and dreams?’ But this person starts off so utterly fragmented that the inexplicable definition of reality doesn’t allow her to exist: If I can’t define existence, then who am I? For me, preparing this was really more just about being willing to be present in something that you cannot actually remotely define. She would love to be present and interact with people and find connections that would feel comforting but she doesn’t exist, therefore, how could she? It’s about somebody who goes through a very traumatic even like loss, traumatic events are catalysts for existential fuckin’ crisis.
On dropping us into the middle of the story:
Assayas: What was important for me, what was the key for the film, was pretty much what was the first scene of the film. I like the idea that all of a sudden we’re just thrown in this story and we don’t know who that character is. She’s in that strange house and strange space and she is trying to get in touch with something that’s beyond her, like we all do in a certain way. I like the idea not knowing a thing about her. We don’t know where we are, we don’t know who she is, we don’t know what this is all about, but we are with her. We become her. We are there walking in the dark with her. A lot of what the film is about stemmed from there.
On cinematic influences:
Assayas: When I started making films, the films I admired were David Cronenberg, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Dario Argento. Those movies somehow deal with something that can be deeper in terms of understanding human beings. There’s something that’s deeper than psychology because it’s physical. It physically connects with the audience. There’s something that’s extremely profound. It’s not like I’m saying I admire guys who do horror movies. I admire guys who deal with complex issues through that medium for the depth of it. It always makes me want to use those elements.
On comparing Personal Shopper to Clouds of Sils Maria:
Stewart: I guess from an outsider’s perspective, I could intellectually assess them and be like, ‘These are similarities. This came first and maybe this affected that…’, but the process of making these movies, they had fucking nothing to do with one another whatsoever. But maybe in conceptualizing them, it’s a different story.
Assayas: Those two films have completely different dynamics in a sense that one is based on a relationship between two women. The dynamics are defined by how things function between Juliette [Binoche] and Kristen. And there’s some kind of energy that has to do with comedy – it’s both a movie that’s a serious subject, about aging, but it’s also a comedy. Personal Shopper is not a comedy. It’s a movie about mourning and how we deal with death. It’s more about Kristen and Kristen. Kristen trying to struggle with something inside herself. The logic of the film is radically different.
On that last line in the movie:
Stewart: The end was roughly translated because he wrote it in French and it was translated and sent to me. The last line didn’t make sense. I didn’t know that line was coming, but [he] was waiting for that line to crystallize in some way. And it wasn’t happening and wasn’t happening. I thought I was being tricked, or that I was stupid and didn’t understand. I knew what it should be and I knew that I understood my relationship with the movie. In that moment, I was like, “I get it. I can answer this question.” I was like, “I’m telling you, I know.” He was like, “Okay. Great! Then just do that.” I was like, “You don’t want to hear it?!” Because I’m an over-sharer – I wanna talk about everything. He was like, “No, no, no. Just do it.” And that scene was coming weeks and weeks later. But that means we were on the same page as of what this movie was about. He was like, “We don’t have to be on the same page – we just need to be asking the same question.”
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