Last night I posted what I called an “Open Letter to Personal Shopper Loyalists.” I asked the critics who had strongly or at least respectfully praised Olivier Assayas‘s film after its debut at last month’s Cannes Film Festival to explain the strange schism between admirers (of which they are many) and dissers (ditto). What’s going on here and why? I asked. Variety and Time Out critic Guy Lodge replied a little while ago. Here’s what he wrote:
“Like you, I’m disappointed by the number of dismissive reviews out there for Personal Shopper, though pleased it has a distinguished core of champions — a group I’m sure is going to grow over time. Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria (of which I wasn’t actually a big fan) also played Cannes to mixed reviews, though by the time its U.S. release rolled around, there had definitely been an uptick in its reception.
“I’m not surprised, however, by the Cannes dissenters. Within the opening minutes of the film, I had a strong instinct that (a) I would really be into it, and (b) that it would receive boos.
“The ectoplasm in the possibly haunted house was the giveaway for me: many Cannes critics like genre when it’s postmodern or symbolically self-aware or otherwise above convention, but when Assayas starts engaging directly and sincerely with ghost-story tropes, those critics sneer.
“There are still critics who regard fantasy, however intelligently imagined, with a degree of snobbery, just as there are those who still see Kristen Stewart as the girl from Twilight. Most of the boos at Cannes came from critics who fall into either or both of those camps.
“I think there was also resistance in some quarters to the film’s deployment of technology as a story device — specifically in the lengthy texting exchange — which I’ve heard described as ‘silly’, often by people who regard such technology in itself as trivial. I thought it was an utterly compelling device that also commented wittily on contemporary communication barriers, but I guess others might have missed the point entirely and seen it as millennial pandering.
“Even at a festival as ostensibly smart as Cannes, films that deviate from audience expectations — and don’t offer clear answers in return — will always meet with some audience pushback. If something as kinky and off-centre as Personal Shopper met with broadly warm applause, I’d say the film was doing its job wrong. (That said, I was surprised how unanimously and rapturously Paul Verhoeven’s thorny, provocative Elle was acclaimed at Cannes. Sometimes you just can’t tell.)
“Anyway, just some scattered thoughts there. Keep fighting the good fight for this terrific film.”