With this intimate supernatural drama, the celebrated French filmmaker Olivier Assayas conjures a melancholy ghost story set in the world of haute couture. Starring Kristen Stewart, whose performance in Assayas’s Clouds of Sils Maria made her the first American actor to win a César Award, this evocative character study tells the story of a young American fashion assistant and spiritual medium who is living in Paris and searching for signs of an afterlife following the sudden death of her twin brother. A stirring depiction of grief in the form of a psychological thriller, Personal Shopper—which won Assayas the best director award at Cannes—is a chilling meditation on modern modes of communication and the way we mourn those we love.
Olivier Assaya’s Personal Shopper comes to Blu-ray through Criterion, presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. This was transferred in 2K from the 35mm original camera negative.
When first watching the film I suspected that maybe the it was shot digitally but, as pointed out above, this was apparently shot on film and transferred over. I was rather stunned by this because the film can have a rather muddled look a lot of the time that I would have attributed to digital cameras having trouble with the low lighting used a lot of the time throughout the film. I doubt I’m spoiling anything since the synopsis explains the basic premise of the film but the film is sort of a ghost story and Assayas likes to play with typical genre tropes so we do get plenty of sequences taking place in a dark, ominous house that has its fair share of bumps in the night. But these scenes can be extremely murky with crushed black levels and limited shadow detail, causing these sequences to lack depth and clarity. This of course could be intentional, I can’t say for sure, but it looks more like the side effects of a weaker digital presentation. Also not helping is there is a bit of a jitter in some of the quicker movements in these darker scenes. Brighter scenes can look better in all of these areas, and there is an improved level of detail, but still not a staggering amount. The ending, which takes place against a more rocky backdrop, probably delivers the best amount of clarity and detail, but then the final moments return to that murky look.
Damage isn’t an issue, as I hoped would be the case for such a newer film, but I still felt a certain level of disappointment. Ultimately this could be how the film is supposed to look, and to be fair I missed its theatrical run so don’t know, but it’s certainly not on par with criterion’s usual presentations for newer films.
The film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround track is not overly showy but works in a more subtle manner to create an appropriate atmosphere. Various sound effects like a whistling wind, creaking house, bumps in the night, thudding bumps behind doors, and vomiting ghosts are spread nicely around the environment, moving naturally between speakers and sounding amazingly sharp. Even the bustle of the streets fill out the environment nicely. Dialogue is mostly clear, limited a bit by Stewart: Stewart is really good in this, and I probably am a bit resistant in admitting that because of Twilight, but she still does have a tendency to mumble a little bit. Outside of that, the audio sounds crisp and clear and works very well for the film.
I get the feeling Criterion is rushing this one out. The only exclusive feature on here is a new 17-minute interview with director Olivier Assayas, filmed in Toronto this past summer. This is a pretty decent interview with the filmmaker, Assayas covering the development of the story, from its inception as a simple image in his mind and how it morphed from there before going over Stewart’s performance. The only other feature is footage from the 45-minute press conference from the 2016 Cannes Film Festivalfeaturing Assayas, Stewart, Lars Eidinger, Sigrid Bouaziz, and producer Charles Gillibert. This one is a bit hit-and-miss and completely dependent on the questions being asked (there is one directed towards Stewart asking her whether she prefers working with vampires or ghosts) but there are some great responses, particularly about the reaction the film received (it did receive “boos” at its premiere screening) and there’s even discussion about what the ending means, and surprisingly Assayas actually explains it.
The disc closes with the film’s theatrical trailer and then the included insert features an essay by Glenn Kenny. Kenny’s essay provides a great analysis of the film but doesn’t make up for the lack of anything else. It’s a pretty bare edition and not all that different in comparison to what a studio would have more than likely put out themselves.
The picture is admittedly throwing me off. The image doesn’t come off all that film-like, a bit murky and flat, and the features, though fine, leave plenty of room for improvement. Disappointing.