Ismael's Ghosts

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Reviewed by: Richard Mowe

Ismael's Ghosts
"The writer-director takes great enjoyment in playing around with his various obsessions."

You can see why Thierry Fremaux, the Cannes Film Festival’s artistic director, thought it a good idea to open the 70th edition with a film by French director Arnaud Desplechin who has grown up with Festival and whose first film, The Sentinel, was in the Competition 25 years ago.

Not only does Desplechin have many Cannes associations but the film also pays reference to his previous works such as Kings And Queen. It emerges as semi-autobiographical as ever, dealing with a filmmaker haunted by his past.

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Unfortunately the result is underwhelming, jumbling too many threads to make coherent sense. Apparently there is a longer version of the film, adding around 20 minutes to the 114-minute running time of the one on show in Cannes which may (or may not) add clarity to the narrative.

The writer-director takes great enjoyment in playing around with his various obsessions and a cast who are willing and able to go along for the ride, including Mathieu Amalric (working with him for the seventh time), Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel, and Marion Cotillard (who had a small role in Desplechin’s My Sex Life… or How I Got Into An Argument in 1996).

Amalric plays a film director from the filmmaker’s home town Roubaix. He is planning a new feature film while conducting a relationship with Gainsbourg as Sylvie. Just to throw us off the scent, the film opens with Louis Garrel as Ivan Dedalus, who is summoned to the Quai d’Orsay to be recruited for the Foreign Ministry. There are tales within tales … but don’t expect easy explanations.

Cotillard plays Carlotta, who was Ismael’s first love before disappearing without trace, later pronounced dead. Suddenly she returns to his beachside house completely out of the blue and starts to compare notes with the startled Sylvie.

The twists and turns in the dense screenplay (co-written with Julie Peyr and Lea Mysius) are often too much to assimilate. Desplechin’s characters never turn out to be who they seem on the surface.

Desplechin described the film to a friend this way: “I think I’ve invented a pile of plates of fiction that I will break against the screen. When they are all broken, the film will be finished."

Doubtless he had a smashing time - and for the rest of us there are compensations in the pleasure of the playing and his joy of the conundrums of life.

Editor's note: The version of this film that will screen at New York Film Festival has the longer running time of 132 minutes

Reviewed on: 17 May 2017
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Ismael's Ghosts packshot
A filmmaker's life becomes complicated by the return of a former lover.

Director: Arnaud Desplechin

Writer: Arnaud Desplechin, Léa Mysius, Julie Peyr

Starring: Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel, Mathieu Amalric, Alba Rohrwacher, Samir Guesmi, Hippolyte Girardot, László Szabó

Year: 2017

Runtime: 114 minutes

Country: France


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