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film fatales #44: faces places (agnès varda and jr, 2017)

This is the fifth Varda film I've seen, all within the time I've been writing this blog. I don't know what took me so long to get started on her work, and I'm puzzled why, even though I have loved every one her movies I have seen, she doesn't come immediately to mind when I think of my favorite directors. (For the record, the others of her films I have seen are Cleo from 5 to 7VagabondThe Gleaners and I, and The Beaches of Agnes.) The most recent of these movies, including Faces Places, have an impish quality that is quite appealing. Varda was in her 70s and 80s when she made those films, and the themes of aging and mortality are present, but Varda makes you want to live a better life, makes you want to appreciate what you have while you still have it.

The film that preceded Faces Places, The Beaches of Agnes, was thought to be her last movie, but almost a decade later, she gave us Faces Places, co-directed by artist and photographer JR. The two of them travel the French countryside in a van that includes a photo booth. Villagers have their photos taken, and enormous prints come out of the side of the van, much like the photo booths in amusement parks. He then plasters the large photos on buildings, rock, anything, creating remarkable larger-than-life visions of the people. Seeing their photos on the sides of buildings, the villagers encounter a new way of looking at themselves. Varda is the one who picks many of the locations, and her fascination with the smallest items makes everything seem larger-than-life.

Varda and JR make quite a team. You can't help wishing for more Agnès and less JR, but no one expected her to make another movie, and she was 89 when the film was made. And JR is a perfect companion, an artist in his own right whose ability to make artful magic out of everyday life is a good fit for Varda.

JR spends the entire movie wearing a hat and sunglasses, and Varda presses him constantly to remove his glasses so she can see his eyes. (Eyes matter, here ... Varda is going blind, at one point getting an injection directly into her eye to help.) Near the end, Varda convinces JR to visit her old New Wave friend Jean-Luc Godard. When they arrive at his house, Godard has left a cryptic message for Agnès, but he is not there. She is clearly disappointed, as are we ... although the film focuses on "regular" people, we look forward to the appearance from Godard as a way to remind us of Varda's connection to the French New Wave. As the film ends, JR tries to find a way to give something special to Agnès, and suddenly, the obvious comes to him: he removes his sunglasses. We see his face as Agnès sees it, blurry, so that he maintains his mystery for the audience even as he makes a present for Varda. "I don't see you very well," she says, "but I see you." It's overwhelming, and Godard is forgotten for the moment. #339 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)

ms .45 (abel ferrara, 1981)

Perhaps it shows a lack of imagination on my part, but when I tried to think of a movie that might reflect recent events, I came up with Ms .45, an example of what was called "Revenge Movie Feminism" on the Roger Ebert website. It's the story of a mute woman who is raped twice in one day, and how she reacts to this outrage.

I can't remember when I first saw Ms .45, which came out in 1981. Sometime in the 80s ... I don't remember seeing it in the theater, so it would have been a VHS copy from a video store, sometime later in the 80s. I know it wasn't until I was studying feminist theory in grad school that I realized how much Ms .45 was an excellent case for a feminist analysis. I had taken a lot of Women's Studies classes over my years in junior college, but they tended to focus on women's history. In fact, I had very little training in literary theory of any kind until graduate school, which I began in 1988. Once I dipped my toes into feminist theory, I immediately thought of Ms .45. The heroine fights against a male oppression made explicit by her rapes ... she is mute, and thus does not have the power of public speaking behind her ... her revenge is targeted only towards men ... she uses an iron as the weapon for her first kill ... in the film's climax, she wears a nun's outfit as she blows away one man after another.

The surprising thing is that all of this came in a low-budget exploitation movie directed by Abel Ferrara, who got some attention with the early-90s films King of New York and Bad Lieutenant, but who never seemed to escape his exploitation-film past. The cast was almost all unknowns. Jayne Kennedy is listed as a seamstress, but I can't find her, and don't know for sure if this was the famous Jayne Kennedy. Jack Thibeau ("Man in Bar") had a bit of a movie career. Then there was Ferrara himself, wearing a mask as "First Rapist", and a bum played by "The Kog".

None of this really matters, because Zoë Tamerlis dominates the movie as the title character. It's one of the great unnoticed acting jobs (unnoticed to the extent that Ms .45 remains unnoticed). Since her character is mute, she can't rely on dialogue to create her character. It's all in her remarkable face. Without Tamerlis, there is no movie, or rather, the movie would not be worth watching. Her portrayal of PTSD is sadly realistic. Her progression from terrified woman, to woman taking matters into her own hands, to a woman pushed over the edge, is heartbreaking. She goes from killing her attacker, to killing men who she sees as acting improperly towards women, to just killing every man who crosses her path.

Tamerlis was only 17 when the film was made, and was reportedly paid $1500. She had an interesting life, and was involved in some interesting movies, but she was also a proponent of heroin use, and she died of drug-related illness when she was only 37.

I was lucky to have Carol J. Clover, author of Men, Women, and Chain Saws, on my dissertation committee, and I spoke with her more than once about slasher films. Her book examined the role of the "Final Girl" who ultimately triumphed in horror films, and how her triumphs allowed male viewers to root for her point of view. Of Ms .45, she wrote:

It goes without saying that the notion of women going around New York putting bullets through male chauvinists has everything to do with fantasy and little to do with reality. Just what the male spectator's stake is in that fantasy in not clear, but it must surely be the case that there is some ethical relief in the idea that if women would just toughen up and take karate or buy a gun, the issue of male-on-female violence would evaporate. It is a way of shifting responsibility from the perpetrator to the victim: if a woman fails to get tough, fails to buy a gun or take karate, she is, in an updated sense of the cliche, asking for it. 

In the previously mentioned piece on the Ebert site, Sheila O'Malley wrote:

The scene where she is play-acting with the gun before going to the Halloween party, in the nun's habit, is my favorite scene in the film. She is truly mad, in the classic sense. There's a moment where a little smile of almost humor flickers on her red lips, and it's the only moment she almost smiles in the film. It gave me the creeps, but in a really excellent way. She is lost in her fantasy of herself, and it reminded me of Deneuve peering at the distorted reflection of herself in the tea kettle in "Repulsion." ... I think that private moment she has with the gun in the nun's habit is so important and the film wouldn't be the same without it. It shows her fantasy world, straight up, without anything between us and it. It shows her little-girl playacting in a way that is blatant and quite mad. It doesn't shy away from the fact that this woman is "off" and has been so from the beginning. But including that moment of her whipping the gun around, pretending she's a Charlie's Angel, and sort of laughing at herself in the mirror, helps put the film and its psychology over the edge where it needs to be.

It is indeed a great scene ... unfortunately, the only copy I can find online has a different soundtrack. Nonetheless, here it is:

(Just a note for anyone who is confused if they are checking out this movie. It has an alternate title, Angel of Vengeance, and Tamerlis later married and went under the name Zoë Lund.)

The movie inspired a song by L7, "Ms. 45".

She's got a big gun
She's gonna make those assholes pay
You fuck with her
She'll blow your ass away


music friday, first kiss edition

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first kiss between me and my future (and still) wife.

Honestly, I don't know what to say about this. I'm pretty sure if you'd asked me in 1968 if this would be the case, I'd say I doubted I'd even be alive in 50 years, much less married to that girl. I've never been good at seeing into the future ... I've never been good at thinking/knowing the future would even happen.

But here we are. Thank you, Robin.

Here is the song that was Number One that week (for the first time ... it lasted for nine weeks):

And, since this is supposed to be Music Friday 2005, here's a song from an artist we saw that year in a little club called Cafe du Nord. It was just her and a guitarist, and they were having trouble making the electronics work, so the guitarist switched to an acoustic, and she came down off the stage and sang to us without a mic.


margot at the wedding (noah baumbach, 2007)

A few days ago, I wrote about the fading quality of Shameless, a series about a dysfunctional family. It's been a success for Showtime, now in the middle of its ninth season, with its 100th episode on the horizon. One way it retains its popularity is by giving even the most dysfunctional members of that family some likable qualities. I think this works against the show in one major area: William H. Macy's Frank should not have any likable qualities, and the show was at its best in the early years when Frank deserved none of our sympathies. But who am I to argue ... Shameless is still on the air, and Macy has four Emmys for his role.

Margot at the Wedding is a movie about a dysfunctional family, and in comparison to Shameless, it is an example of "Be Careful What You Wish For". The main focus is on two sisters, Margot (Nicole Kidman) and Pauline (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who haven't spoken in some time. The more we get to know them, the more we understand why they don't much like their sibling. Both Margot and Pauline are insufferable ... that Kidman and Leigh are both excellent in the film almost makes it worse, because they are willing to be crappy people in ways that Shameless doesn't allow William H. Macy. The other characters range from pitiful to awful. There are a couple of teenagers who are almost human, although you can't help but feel their familial environment isn't going to be much help as they grow into adulthood.

I like honest movies about family trauma, or at least, I think I do. And I liked the other Noah Baumbach movies I've seen (The Squid and the Whale, and especially Frances Ha). But for whatever reason, Margot at the Wedding irritated me so much that I quit caring about the characters. It has the opposite problem from the later seasons of Shameless ... no one is sympathetic. I couldn't wait for it to end, and it was only 91 minutes. #716 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.


dan quayle was right

I wrote this in 1992. It was the first quasi-academic piece I ever published. Because of the title, it was linked to by a few right-wing sites, who likely didn't read the article but just agreed with the title. I'm reposting it here because Murphy Brown has been rebooted. I've included the entire text, because the site that holds it (Bad Subjects) has been flaky of late.

Dan Quayle Was Right

"Few contemporary forms of storytelling offer territory as fertile as television for unearthing changing public ideas about family.... The shared experience of tele-history has become one of the major ways in which we locate ourselves in time, place, and generation, and at the heart of that history lies television's obsession — the family."
— Ella Taylor, "TV Families: Three Generations of Packaged Dreams"

Dan Quayle doesn't think Murphy Brown sets a good example for the people of America. It seems that Dan decided, without actually watching any of the programs in question, that Murphy's decision to have a baby out of wedlock represented the crumbling of traditional American family values under the corrupt influence of the liberal entertainment industry in Hollywood. "It doesn't help matters," commented Dan, "when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown — a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid, professional woman — mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another 'lifestyle choice'." It is unclear how much more damage could be done to the image of the American family after decades of watching such exemplary leaders as the Kennedys and the Reagans collapse across our front pages, but Dan apparently sees the popular culture of the 1990s as significantly more dangerous than the J(G)ennifers of George and Bill.

When I first heard Quayle's attack on "Murphy Brown," I wasn't surprised to find that Dan had never actually watched the show. His reading of the program's subtexts was so different from my own that we might have been watching different programs, and in a sense we were, since I was paying homage to the "text," watching the program on my teevee while Dan was "watching" the program in its broader cultural "context." Nor was I surprised when the "liberal media" rose up in arms against Dan's attack. The Veep has never been a favorite of theirs, anyway, and now he was vilifying their product in a most obvious way. What did surprise me, though in retrospect I'm not sure why, is the direction their response took. The general argument that arose against Dan Quayle's read on Murphy Brown went something like this: Dan Quayle is a moron because he thinks a teevee show has something to say about ourselves and our culture.

Master ironist Dave Letterman echoed the refrain of the media when he stuck his face a few inches from the camera on his Late Night show and yelled out, "Dan! It's a TELEVISION SHOW!" There seemed to be a general agreement amongst the "liberals" in Hollywood and the media in general that this time, the Vice-President had really flipped his wig. He couldn't tell the difference between real life and television ... imagine that! He had the cockeyed notion that a program watched by tens of millions of Americans every week might actually illuminate our culture, and for this he became, once again, the butt of our national jokes. But, in a warped way, Dan Quayle was right. Or rather, he was right where people thought he was wrong, for Murphy Brown is important. Dan's sense that sitcom values are markedly different from his own was a bit misguided, and the simplistic nature of his attacks belie the complexity of the relationship between the producers and consumers of popular culture, but his belief that our popular culture reflects the values of the culture as a whole is absolutely correct.

What seems most ironic about the faux-battle being waged between Quayle and the entertainment industry is that, whether they admit it or not, they are on the same side. Perhaps it is to be expected in a country where the moderately conservative presidential candidate attacks the conservatively moderate candidate for being too "liberal," but the difference between the positions of Mr. Quayle and the folks at Murphy Brown are barely significant. In the absence of real choice in the U.S. election of 1992, this minor tiff between the "cultural elite" and the actual "elite" is blown out of proportion, effectively burying the deadly, boring sameness of the major parties under a pseudo-war of massive unimportance.

If Dan Quayle had deigned to watch the 1991-2 season of Murphy Brown, he would have seen a tale of a pregnant woman who decided against having an abortion (never has a show been so proud of itself for what it didn't do: we had to hear endless paeans to the greatness of Murphy Brown because they allowed Murphy to choose, as if CBS wasn't still thinking about the uproar in the 70s when Maude actually DID have an abortion ... surrrrrre Murphy had a choice). She has the baby; don't you think Dan would have been pleased? Unfortunately, Dan was too busy to watch any of the episodes in question, and so he was stuck on the absence of a father in the new baby's life, and was unable to appreciate the importance the newborn Brown had in Murphy's life.

In any event, Dan Quayle was obsessing about fathers and children, and so could perhaps be excused for missing the underlying point of Murphy's motherhood. However, Mrs. Dan, Marilyn Quayle, might have been sneaking a peek at the teevee screen when CBS aired that classic season-ending, ratings-bonanza episode of Murphy Brown where Murph actually has the damn baby. At the Republican convention Marilyn spoke about the "essential nature of women," and echoed Murphy, sitting up in her hospital bed at the end of another profitable teevee season, holding her baby in her arms and singing "you make me feel like a natural woman." Essential nature, indeed. The viewer is left to decide on their own whether Murphy influenced Marilyn or vice versa.

What is dangerous about the Quayles, from the perspective of the entertainment industry, is that they suggest that a sitcom warrants our critical attention. Granted, the level of critical thinking practiced by Dan and Marilyn is pretty rudimentary, but in positing Murphy Brown as relevant, Dan and the missus are perilously close to those members of the "cultural elite" who hang out in universities, wasting taxpayers' money studying "TV Families: Three Generations of Packaged Dreams." What is worse, the Quayles take their opinions straight to the masses. No ivory tower for old Dan; he goes right on the evil Teevee itself to trumpet his message of shattered family values.

And in this Dan Quayle is right, and so is Pat Buchanan, for there most certainly is a cultural war going on. Has been for years. Where Dan and Pat go wrong is in their assumption that Hollywood and the "liberal media" are on the other side. This is nonsense. If Murphy Brown were really anti-family values, her sitcom might look something like a John Waters movie circa Pink Flamingos: just imagine Murphy chowing down on the baby's placenta while Eldon made a sandwich of baby poo and saliva. (Although, now that I think about it, a case can also be made that a certain type of family values are at work even in John Waters' early work.) The world of Murphy Brown is a world where imaginary choices are touted as the real thing, where an independent woman finds her essential nature in bearing a child, where controversy is exploited for the ratings it engenders. It is a world remarkably like the world of a presidential election in the United States in 1992: mock choices and "natural women," with one eye always cocked on the latest polls.

No one wants to question the notion of family values. Everyone just wants to prove they have them, whatever they are. The Republicans believe in family values. The Democrats respond by saying the Republicans don't really believe in family values; if you want a true "big tent" come to the Democrats, who know what family really is. Meanwhile, on teevee, Murphy Brown finds her true self in the wonders of childbirth. These people are all cavorting in the same playground, and a playground is what it is, a place where everyone has "fun" and no one questions whether or not a playground is appropriate.

It is indeed a tangled web of which we speak, where Dan Quayle is mocked for critiquing popular culture, where said culture is nowhere near as dangerous to Dan and his cohorts as they would suggest, and where any real and legitimate discussion of the values promoted by Murphy Brown and their ultimate similarity to the "family values" of the Republican and Democratic parties is almost entirely missing. Quayle gets pilloried for attempting what cultural studies scholars attempt every day: critiquing contemporary culture. That his "critique" is wrongheaded is not news; that he dares to critique at all is the issue. The uproar over the importance of culture overshadows the very real similarities between the world views of Murphy Brown and the mainstream political parties in the United States. The Republicans attack Hillary for being anti-family, Hillary touts her own work in behalf of children, while Murphy Brown sings "Natural Woman" to her baby, echoing Marilyn Quayle's bizarre notions from the Republican convention. The Republicans and the Democrats fight for votes, CBS fights for ratings, but it's all part of the selling of the mainstream.

Thus, we shouldn't be too surprised to discover that Dan Quayle did promo spots for Murphy Brown. Seems Dan was giving an interview to a local teevee station in L.A. that had just begun showing Murphy Brown reruns. After the interview was over, Dan agreed to tape a couple of spots advertising the reruns of his "favorite show ... NOT!" For a few seconds, the symbiotic relationship between the "liberal media" and Dan Quayle was laid bare; then Dan went back to stumping on family values, and Murphy Brown writers went back to creating ever more tart putdowns of the Veep for the ratings-bonanza season opener for 1992.

Postscript:Murphy Brown did indeed take on Dan Quayle in the 1992-3 season opener. Midway through a special hour-long episode that had until that time dealt mainly in standard sitcom humor revolving around a new baby in the house, Dan Quayle appeared on Murphy-the-character's teevee screen as we, the viewing audience, watched Murphy-the-program on our teevee screens. Quayle once more spouted the sacrilegious remarks about "Murphy Brown." Murphy-the-character tried to avoid the ensuing controversy, while reporters (actually actors) camped out at her house and George Bush (actually George Bush) made a Murphy joke on Murphy-the-character's teevee. Murphy-the-character finally went on her own fictional teevee show, "FYI," to respond to the Vice-President's "real" remarks, capping her speech by introducing some "real," not-quite-traditional families ("real" people, not actors). The following day, the "real" Associated Press sent the text of the "fictional" Murphy's speech across their newswire for subsequent quoting in papers across the country. Though Dan Quayle was ridiculed for "confusing" fiction and reality, "Murphy Brown" won kudos for doing the same.

The ratings were very good. Sponsors paid $310,000 for one 30-second spot. Dan Quayle watched the program at long last, and stated afterwards that it was "basically another Hollywood contribution" to Bill Clinton's campaign. Dan was right once again.

nothing sacred (william a. wellman, 1937)

A short (77 minutes) screwball comedy in Technicolor, Nothing Sacred has a decent reputation, based in part on the presence of Carole Lombard. She is good, although she doesn't even turn up for the first 15 minutes of the film. But I never felt I was watching something zany, so for me, Nothing Sacred lacked the pizzazz I expect with screwball.

It reads like a classic of cynicism. Lombard plays a small-town woman who is supposedly dying of radium poisoning. She finds out she is fine, but when a big-city reporter played by March comes to town wanting to exploit her upcoming death, she plays sick in order to get a trip to Manhattan. There, she is feted like a Goddess, inspiring everyone with her bravery. The average person comes across as gullible, Lombard is deceitful, and March not much better. The script shows that city folks are just as apt to be hoodwinked as those from the small towns. All of this is indeed cynical, and more power to it. But despite an attempt at several big scenes, it mostly just lays there.

I should note that I saw a terrible print, basically the worst possible one. I was fooled by Amazon, who has at least two versions ... one was marked "Digitally Remastered", so I went with it. It was awful, with washed out colors that were a nightmare for fans of old movies. What makes it worse is that the other Amazon version uses a decent print. Hell, you can find the movie on YouTube and it looks better than what I saw.

So I admittedly saw Nothing Sacred under less than good conditions. Even taking that into consideration, though, I wasn't overwhelmed by the picture.

This was remade in the 1950s as a Dean Martin-Jerry Lewis picture, Living It Up, with Lewis in the Lombard role and Janet Leigh in the March role. (Martin played a doctor.) It also gave us the wonderful Sheree North:

shameless, season 9

Shameless has never been a comedy, despite the many funny scenes over the years. And William H. Macy gets Emmy nominations every year, while Emmy Rossum has never gotten even one for playing Fiona. Yet Macy plays Frank, the least-interesting character on the show, a character that should have been dumped many seasons ago.

Season 9 has too much Frank, as have too many recent seasons. Meanwhile, it seems like the writers no longer know what to do with Fiona. I don't blame Rossum for announcing she is leaving the show.

I'm still sticking with it, at least until Rossum is gone, but it's a pale shadow of what it used to be. This is what it used to be, when Rossum wasn't getting those Emmy nominations:


music friday: 2004

Franz Ferdinand, "Take Me Out". Some of the comments on the video, which is of a live performance: "When the crowd sings the know you made it" ... "this crowd is so good It makes me want to cry" ... "The video does not do justice to how amazing this was live".

Kanye West, "Jesus Walks". Video, from Dave Chappelle's Block Party, one of the best movies of 2005. So good I'm willing to ignore the fact that the picture is reversed.

Kelly Clarkson, "Since U Been Gone". Clarkson won the very first American Idol.

Arcade Fire, "Rebellion (Lies)". For many years, I wondered if I loved Arcade Fire. Eventually, I realized I just loved this song.

Loretta Lynn, "Portland, Oregon". 72 years old in 2004. It's pretty impressive when you're the oldest artist on a list that includes Willie Nelson.

Usher, "Yeah!" I always forget that this isn't a Lil Jon song.

Willie Nelson, "Midnight Rider". Only 71 years old in 2004. We saw Willie in concert that year ... not sure, but he might be the oldest headliner I ever saw.

Gwen Stefani, "Hollaback Girl". In an interview that year, Courtney Love said, "I'm not interested in being the cheerleader. I’m not interested in being Gwen Stefani."

Prince, "Cinnamon Girl". The New York Post called the video the most tasteless ever.

Green Day, "American Idiot". Feels ten years past their prime, but that's just me.

Spotify playlist:

the spirit of the beehive (victor erice, 1973)

To discuss The Spirit of the Beehive, you must start with Ana Torrent. This was her first movie ... she was seven when it was released. In fairness, whenever you see a great performance by a child actor, you must tip your cap to the director, because getting a good performance out of a kid is a lot harder than it looks. So Victor Erice gets credit, too, especially since as far as I know, he is the one who cast Torrent to begin with. I'm of the school that thinks a low-key performance from a child actor is usually preferable to the kind of thing Shirley Temple used to do, and Torrent is most definitely low-key here. To focus this even further, it's Ana Torrent's eyes. They are bottomless ... they seem to see everything both on and beneath the surface, we can project just about anything into them, and just keeping Torrent from overacting during the times when we are looking into her eyes is brilliance.

The film is beautiful, both in the exteriors and the interiors, where the house in which the central family lives seems as endless as those in Sergio Leone Westerns. It's amazing to learn that the cinematographer, Luis Cuadrado, was going blind.

The emptiness of the family's house reflects the lack of interaction between the characters. The parents rarely speak to each other, and the two daughters are often left to their own devices, with only a housekeeper to offer an adult presence. Thus, the daughters, Ana and Isabel, have the only close relationship in the film. (And it's another sign of how young Torrent was, that the names of the family characters match their real-life names, because Torrent was confused by the difference between their names and their characters' names ... Erice just rewrote to match the names.)

The film takes place in 1940, just after Franco won the Civil War. The little town where the film takes place is full of buildings that seem to have gotten the short end of the stick during the war. One day, a traveling distributor comes to town to show the residents a movie: the 1931 James Whale version of Frankenstein. The excitement as the movies come to town is fascinating, reminding us that it wasn't always possible to call up any old movie on your phone. The film affects Ana quite deeply ... she isn't quite sure where reality ends and movie fantasy begins, and her older sister, in a combination of helping and teasing, only makes this worse. Somehow, when we look into Ana's eyes, we feel what she sees, and the world becomes more magical.

There is something to say about the influence of Franco on the film, and I confess I am not the one to talk about it. In the early 1970s, Spanish filmmakers still had to deal with state censorship, and they developed ways of making points about Francoism without being obvious. In this case, that method isn't clear to me, but that's on me, not on Erice. #111 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time.

personal shopper (olivier assayas, 2016)

I liked the pedigree for this movie. Kristen Stewart is a fine actor ... I thought she was the best thing in On the Road, and I've enjoyed all of her movies I've seen. Olivier Assayas impressed me greatly with Carlos, an epic movie/mini-series, and Summer Hours was also good. None of this really prepared me for Personal Shopper, a low-budget, low-key ghost story that downplays the ghost factor in favor of a study of grief.

Stewart plays an American in Paris whose twin brother has died. Both twins are mediums, and both have a genetic heart problem (which is why the brother died). Assayas offers only limited special effects ... he doesn't seem particularly interested in the supernatural angle. There is a death late in the film that may have supernatural elements, and the ending is less than concrete, so the movie does seem a bit otherworldly. But that feeling of otherness is there to serve to illuminate Stewart's character, and you could argue that pretty much the same movie could be made without any ghosts at all. Or rather, the ghosts are the kind we all have, where people from our past stay in our memories. We're not talking Casper the Friendly Ghost.

Stewart has to carry the film ... I'm hard pressed to remember more than a couple of minutes where she isn't on the screen. She has a way of underplaying that matches well with the movie, and if you aren't paying attention, you might think she's barely acting at all. But she holds our attention throughout, and draws us into her character, which means she's acting up a storm, only without actually acting up a storm. It's a very good performance.

Personal Shopper can be frustrating. Not a lot happens, and when it does, it's just this side of ludicrous. And, as noted, Stewart dominates the screen without doing a Nic Cage, which I suppose might not appeal to fans of excessive acting. The best anecdote that shows the varying ways the film works comes from Cannes. It was booed at its first screening, but after its official showing, it received a 4 1/2 minute standing ovation.

I don't think this is the best Stewart film I've seen ... that's probably Into the Wild. But it's the first film I've seen where she is the star (I've missed the Twilight movies), so it's the best thing I've seen for showcasing her talents. And I would recommend Carlos over Personal Shopper as the best Assayas I've seen. But this movie continues a streak: I've still never seen a movie with Kristen Stewart or a film directed by Olivier Assayas that wasn't at least worth watching. #483 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century.