Ismael's Ghosts: Director's Cut


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Ismael's Ghosts
"How does Ismael have the derring-do to believe that all these women are there, like a bouquet, for him to choose from? He is an artist, of course, who creates his own reality."

How does it feel to return to the men who missed you for so many years? What's on a ghost's agenda? It could be the resurrection of the long-gone, setting things right or jumping straight back into the old traps.

Not all women are created to be Madeleines, to rephrase Ibsen's Hedda Gabler. Arnaud Desplechin's latest piercing, fastidious exploration of jealousy and creation poses among others the following question: What if the woman you could not save actually came back to give you a second chance?

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Jacques Lacan's Seminar VIII, an all-important father/daughter exchange from Philip Roth, half a Rilke poem, paintings connected by strings - references, like ghosts, tread lightly, open a door and leave it up to us if we want to explore the ideas further.

Ismael’s Ghosts: Director’s Cut (Les Fantômes D'Ismaël), screenplay by the director with Léa Mysius and Julie Peyr, cinematography by Irina Lubtchansky (My Golden Days, La Forêt) is structured around a mirroring of visitations. Freud's notion that if you actually ran into yourself as a double you would lose your mind gets a visual confirmation. It is a film that tastes of star anise, crumbles like golden sand in Neptune's hand and smells like the attic of your childhood.

In our dreams the dead return casually, without warning and little fanfare. An old stained looking glass can make you lose an eye and give you freckles. Ismael (Mathieu Amalric in a cannonball of a performance) is a film director. His wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) disappeared 20 years ago and has never been heard from again.

Her father Henri Bloom (László Szabó), also a film director, who eagerly awaits the retrospective of his documentaries in Tel Aviv, has been mourning his daughter with equal fervour. Desplechin turns wishing into a flummoxed game of chess with the past. How much people can hurt each other and how humans drive each other mad, are omnipresent issues in his films, but they come along on gossamer wings.

Composer Gregoire Hetzel's music swells and flows and becomes another spectacular layer. Ivan Dedalus (Louis Garrel) is Ismael's brother, working for the Office of Foreign Affairs - "disappearing was his specialty." The woman in Ivan's life (Alba Rohrwacher) plausibly doubles as yet another one of his brother's ghosts. Disappearances can go either way. People can go far away or as Rohrwacher's Arielle/ Faunia says to her fiancé, they can get too close: "You are a cancer, you grow in me. I speak like you, I think like you, I'm afraid to disappear."

One day, in the dunes by the ocean, Ismael's current girlfriend, astrophysicist Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is visited by Carlotta.

Both Amalric and Cotillard in their elaborate, yet nuanced, performances situate the characters in an emotional wilderness. Gainsbourg's Sylvia is more grown-up and less operatic and it is beautiful how her disbelief of the others' antics flickers across her face. What madness did I get myself into, she seems to question more than once. At one point Carlotta dances with abandon. Sylvia watches, tilting her head ever so slightly, like a puppy hearing a brand new sound.

How does Ismael have the derring-do to believe that all these women are there, like a bouquet, for him to choose from? He is an artist, of course, who creates his own reality. That includes his own brother and imagined fratricide. His latest movie is "an homage to me if I had been my brother."

Carlotta, the mad Carlotta, the invented Carlotta, the ideal woman from Hitchcock's Vertigo, is evoked and abandoned here. The namesake does not hold the key to solve Ismael's riddles. She never did because the real, living, woman always disturbs the mirage.

Henri Bloom knows how to make a scene in an airplane. His trip to Israel, as well as most of Ivan's story were not included when the film was screened as the opening night selection of the Cannes Film Festival last year. The omission resulted in a family tale far less laced with life's lunacy.

Reviewed on: 18 Mar 2018
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Ismael's Ghosts: Director's Cut packshot
A filmmaker's life is sent into a tailspin by the return of a former lover just as he is about to embark on the shoot of a new film.
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Director: Arnaud Desplechin

Writer: Arnaud Desplechin, Léa Mysius, Julie Peyr

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

Year: 2017

Runtime: 132 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: France


New York 2017

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