Personal Shopper (15)

Icon Home Entertainment, £12.99, Blu-Ray £14.99

What does Olivier Assayas get from casting Kristen Stewart in his latest film Personal Shopper? A touch of Hollywood glamour most obviously. And a star that he can dress up in high fashion (and sometimes, let’s be honest, undress).

Loading article content

What does Kristen Stewart get from being cast in Personal Shopper? Hmm, that’s not quite as clear.

Assayas’s latest film is a kind of ghost story and a sort of murder mystery, but, really, it’s all about Stewart’s bone structure. There are worse reasons to make a movie.

Stewart plays the personal shopper of the title, a young, grief-stricken woman mourning the death of her twin brother. She spends her days visiting designers to blag clothes for her big-name employer who she hardly ever sees, while spending her evenings haunting a house in Paris hoping her dead brother will send her a sign from beyond the grave.

It’s a film about grief and isolation then, set against a Paris of expensive hotel rooms and glossy designer stores. Some critics have used the word Hitchcockian for the film’s central sequence, a disturbing text message back-and-forth between Stewart and an unknown verbal assailant as she travels back and forth on the Eurostar. But that’s rather overstating the thrill of the sequence.

The truth is, it’s a film that irritates for the way it toys with genre tropes. The murder mystery is ridiculously perfunctory here. The ghost story is at least taken a little more seriously. We even get ectoplasmic manifestations. At the same time, Assayas seems uninterested in questions of life after death, which does rather ask the question why raise them in the first place.

What does that leave? Stewart mostly. No doubt the film taps into her natural sullen tomboy insularity. But onscreen from start to finish, she offers a compelling vision of a young woman who is only just functioning.

Her only break from the fog of grief in the film is the sequence where she gets to try on the clothes she borrows from the various high-end designers. It’s the moment in the film where we see someone other than the grieving sister.

But it’s also the moment where Stewart is stripped literally as well as figuratively, which feels, frankly, just a little exploitative.

Still, she emerges from the whole thing with credit. So what does Assayas get from casting her? The best thing in his movie, I’d say.

The Levelling (15)

Peccadillo Pictures, £15.99, Blu-Ray £17.99

Another family story. One of the highlights of this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, Hope Dickson Leach’s debut film is a fine example of what you can achieve on a small budget. A quiet, spare film full of love and grief, it tells the story of Clover, played by Ellie Kendrick, who returns home to the farm where her brother has died in what her father says is an accident but she quickly fears was suicide.

An intimate drama shot in close and played out against lowering skies and the flat, flooded land of the Somerset levels, it’s a film that’s attuned to the daily rhythms of agricultural life while waiting for emotional time bombs to go off.

Kendrick is great here, all red eyes, sharp angles and sharp words, quicksilver alongside Troughton’s blunted bovinity (though when roused he is scarily bullish).

If at times the dialogue that charts the emotional back and forth between them is a little too on-the-button, it’s offset by DoP Nanu Segal’s eye for natural lighting and chiaroscuro interiors and Dickson Leach’s simple, effective storytelling. All in all, quite a calling card.

The Taisho Trilogy

Arrow Academy, £59.99

When the Japanese director Seijun Suzuki died earlier this year he was remembered for his 1960s pop art crime dramas such as Branded to Kill and Tokyo Drifter. Arrow’s latest release rediscovers a later era in Suzuki’s career when the fizzing flash and incoherence of his younger days was replaced by a more stately, crafted approach.

All these things are relative of course. The Taisho Trilogy are still full of dream logic, surrealist imagery and a collision of western and eastern ideas. But replacing the cops and robbers of his earlier movies are 1920s flappers, playwrights and artists.

Zigeunerweisen (1980) sees two intellectuals involve their wives in a series of sexual games. Kageroza (1981) follows the story of a playwright obsessed with a mysterious woman. Yumeji (1991), the most approachable of the three, is a fictional story about the real-life painter-poet Takehisa Yumeji.

All three are full of startling images, abrupt transitions and adoring, if at times misogynistic, visions of Japanese womanhood. (All three films play with the erotics of the kimono.) The results are utterly original.

If nothing else, see Yumeji for the way it makes great use of the theatricality of the Japanese home (Suzuki has great fun revealing and concealing via sliding doors) and for the gorgeousness of the costumes. Never have I came away from a film with such a desire to buy new ties.