film noir

All posts tagged film noir

Psychics, Sadness and Mystery in Assayas’ Personal Shopper

Published April 6, 2017 by rmpixie

Personal Shopper (2016, 1 hr, 45 mins.)

 

It’s no surprise that death is devastating for those in mourning. Missing loved ones who have passed on comes in many forms but most of us would confidently say that faith (or lack thereof) aside, we don’t really know what happens to our soul after the physical body ends. In Personal Shopper, we see one woman’s struggle with the death of her twin brother and her belief in the afterlife. It brings to light deeper questions about life and death staged before the backdrop of Paris, the fashion world, and its trappings.

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) works for a self-centered celebrity and socialite Kyra (Nora von Waldstätten) as a personal shopper. Her job is to find the latest and greatest in high fashion and bring it back to her famous employer since her high profile makes it impossible to shop anonymously. Maureen has also recently lost her twin brother Lewis to a heart defect she also suffers from. His surviving partner Lara (Sigrid Bouaziz) wants to sell their house, but Maureen who is a medium, insists that Lewis will send her a sign from beyond, so she spends a few nights in his crumbling house waiting for him to appear. He was a medium like her, so her determination is fueled by his once stronger psychic abilities and their vow to make contact from the other side. When she does contact the spirit world, she also receives mysterious text messages topped off with an unexpected murder that stops her in her tracks. Maureen’s quest for answers becomes more confusing, leaving her in a state of shock and floundering for answers.

Kristin Stewart as Maureen waiting for a sign.

Personal Shopper is a horror, a film noir, a psychological thriller, and a ghost story. It is all of the above and none of the above at the same time, embracing and defying genre. Director Olivier Assayas created a film that’s in a class of its own using art, history and old school paranormal beliefs with 21st century technology and lifestyles to illustrate Maureen’s search for her brother’s spirit. It’s this artistic take that kept me riveted despite the slow burn pace.

Assayas captures Maureen’s loss well, and he also conveys the loneliness of this technological age we live in with Skype and smartphones being key methods with which she communicates. Even when she is with someone physically or electronically, she is separate, guarded, or unsure; from her shopping excursions to her Skype dates with her boyfriend. The smart phone as a thing of necessity in this day and age to stay tethered to this world also becomes an agent of isolation and intense paranoia when Maureen pleads with a nameless messenger behind the texts to reveal themselves.  Assayas takes a now commonplace device and gives it a more otherworldly, sinister presence.

Personal Shopper is also a lesson in how Maureen grieves. She throws herself into her work even though she flat out hates her fashionable job, but Paris is her main connection to her dead brother so she stays there as she waits for a ghostly sign, not ready to let go.  The world of fashion is a fleeting one; rarely delving deeply into the reality around it. Her psychic abilities seem to be stunted as she moves between posh shops in London and Paris to serve Kyra in this superficial arena. It shows how she herself seems like a spirit as she is lost between real life, the supernatural, the fashion world, and her uncertainty with what she believes and how she is perceived. Her only moment of self-awareness comes when the mysterious messenger asks her to do something forbidden, and she taps all too briefly into her desires in her confused and somewhat desperate state. It’s a strange moment in the film, but it makes sense as her character searches for a right fit, so to speak, in environments that while not hostile, aren’t hospitable to her either.

The look of the film is really beautiful. Yorick Le Saux, the cinematographer for Only Lovers Left Alive, does a wonderful job capturing the contrast of the dingy streets and stark sophistication of Paris. He is skilled at making the most of each setting, representing streetscapes and boutiques in their truest and most tangible forms. For anyone that has visited the City of Lights, you’ll feel nostalgic for its frenzied energy.

My only issue lies with the text messages and some of the ensuing actions asked of Maureen. While I really enjoyed these suspenseful interludes and there is definitely a point to them, they were problematic with some details that still remain unclear when the storyline makes a sharp turn. Stewart’s stellar performance as a tortured, uncertain and lost character written for her by Assayas, evokes a surprising amount of emotion that overshadows any inconsistencies in the narrative however, as you watch this poor soul wait for her brother to tell her something, anything as proof of an afterlife.

Personal Shopper is an artistic take on a ghost story and focuses on one woman’s uncertainty when mortality comes into question. See this film for it’s beautiful photography, a haunting performance from Stewart and an interesting albeit imperfect story about grief and the afterlife.

 

Kiss of the Damned Kicks It Art House Old School

Published September 2, 2013 by rmpixie

kiss of the damned

Kiss of the Damned (2012, 1 hr 37 mins.)

What a trip!  Just watched Kiss of the Damned, and I couldn’t help feeling this film was a nod to vampire art films of the ’70’s and 80’s.  Part Ganja and Hess and part The Hunger, it’s weird, Giallo and Hammer-esque feel kept me watching, first out of curiosity and then with admiration.

Djuna, a beautiful French translator, meets Paolo, a screenwriter who has moved to the countryside to finish a screenplay.  Things move quickly, as Paolo becomes obsessed with Djuna, and their passion becomes consuming.  Consuming due to the fact that Djuna is actually a vampire that lives a secluded yet civilized life, feigning a skin condition that keeps her out of the sun, and feeding solely on animals.  She has not had a lover for decades, and  is wary to start anything fresh, but when Paolo insists on seeing her she succumbs and reveals her secret.  Seeing no other way to be together, Paolo offers himself to her and she turns him.  Their vampiric romantic paradise is interrupted when Mimi, Djuna’s sister, arrives to stay for a week.  Mimi, a vampire herself, proves to be all kinds of trouble from eating her dates, steamy scandals, and luring tasty virgins.  She is also a threat to the posh, civilized community of vamps led by vampire actress Xenia who are philosophical by nature, and want to change they way they feed, and for their rights to be acknowledged.

I must say, the first half of the film was a mix of weird, choppy shots, moody lighting, dream-like sequences and eerie atmospheric music.  I didn’t want to judge it right off the bat, and I’m glad I didn’t.  The second half redeemed itself as it became a film noir, with gorgeous sets and wardrobe, giving the film a beautiful stylized look.  The moody lighting paid off, as it set the tone for all the trouble Djuna and Paolo encounter, and the deadly misadventures of Mimi.

Directed and written by Xan Cassavetes, daughter of revered actor/director John Cassavetes (Rosemary’s Baby, The Fury), did a decent job creating mood with this film.  It was erotic without being gratuitous, and had a European feel with the mostly French cast.  Roxane Mesquida was amazing as the out of control Mimi; her eyes smouldered with contempt in every scene.  The chemistry between her and Josephine de La Baume as Djuna was great too, like two cats who just couldn’t get along.  I like Milo Ventimiglia as he is easy on the eyes, but his portrayal of Paolo was a tad boring (you must check him out in the 2011 film The Divide.  Insane performance!).  My favourite character was Xenia, the queen bee vamp.  Anna Mouglalis played her with finesse and grace, and showed the conflict Xenia had with what she was and what she wanted to be.

I recommend giving this film a chance.  Puzzling, dark and beautiful, The Kiss of the Damned is for those of you who dig homages to European styled art house horror from the ’70’s and ’80’s.

Favourite Scene and Line:  The vampire cocktail party.  Beautiful apartment and wardrobe with ultra posh guests.  It looked like a launch party at a fashion editor’s Manhattan digs.  My favourite line comes from this scene as well.  After Paolo inquires what a glass of blood-like liquid is, a guest replies, “Whatever it is, it’s the Beluga of politically correct plasma.” Yum, yum, more please!

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