Written and Directed by Oliver Assayas | 105 min
My favourite film at last year’s AFF, after which I wrote up its delicious contradictions.
Watching it a second time I felt like it deserved a little more text. I think it’s going to confound a few people, anyone going in expecting either some kind of fashion industry drama, or ghost story, or murder mystery. It’s actually all of those things, but commits to none of them for long. In its gorgeously chilly art-house heart, the film is a story of a woman whose identity has been shattered by grief and she’s still trying to piece it together.
Kristen Stewart is Maureen, bereaved by the death of her twin brother, Lewis. When we first encounter her she’s live-haunting a dark, empty house, hoping to connect with his spirit. She’s a medium, like he was, and believes maybe he’ll reach out to her across the veil. Her professional days are filled with picking up clothes for a model in Paris, a gig she hates, while her boyfriend is in Muscat, pleading for her to join him.
We follow her around as the story shifts beneath her, offering clues to the mystery of the spirits, the mystery of a crime of passion, and the mystery of who Maureen really is. After The Clouds of Sils Maria, you get the impression Assayas is as fascinated with his leading lady as he is his plotting, and in this film he brings us on board.
In a terrific mid-movie set-piece, Maureen takes the train from Paris to London to pick up a couple dresses and spends the trip texting with someone she doesn’t know, but who certainly knows her. The conversation takes an interesting turn, when she admits that there’s no desire without the forbidden. As soon as she’s back in Paris, she’s trying on her boss’s dresses without her consent.
The picture is a narrative dance that keeps switching time signatures. It shouldn’t work as it breaks all the rules we’ve come to expect around genre films, but it absolutely does. That’s at least partly because Assayas isn’t really a genre filmmaker—here he’s made a character study.
I don’t think the tonal shifts would work without Stewart and her astonishing naturalism. She’s magnetic in this, effortlessly carrying the movie in almost every scene, if not every shot. As I wrote before—we’ll follow her anywhere.