Remember last year, when Cannes festival opened with a French drama full of A-listed actors? Neither do I, because Ismael’s Ghosts is one utterly forgettable, pointless and irritating movie.
For the 70th anniversary of the event, it was not appropriate to choose production from another country. Also, Arnaud Desplechin made his debut on the Cote d’Azur twenty-five years ago. His film should appeal mainly to the supporters of the director’s talent, but the cast can also attract other viewers – Ismael’s Ghosts has the most sought-after French actors of the middle and young generation on the screen. And that’s the only good thing about it.
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Desplechin, from the very beginning, confuses the viewer. He begins his film like a political thriller in which we follow a man named Ivan (Louis Garrel), who lands a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As soon as it gets intriguing, the artists expose this passage, which returns a few times later on, as a script created by Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric), a director going through a creative crisis. We watch images on the screen as they are written by him.
We gradually meet other people from his surroundings – depressed father of his ex-wife (László Szabó) and a lover – Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Using flashbacks, the director allows us to take a look at the beginning of the relationship between this woman and Ismaël, but quickly adds to the two a shocking element. Suddenly, out of nowhere, after twenty years of absence, in the life of Ismaël, his ex-wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) appears. The woman seems to be a ghost at first, but here she is, in flesh and blood. This love triangle constantly changes the dynamics between the characters.
Desplechin several times refers to nightmares that tire almost everyone in Ismael’s Ghosts. This is probably the right key to interpret this feature. Dreams are an undesirable sphere, over which there is no control. Ismaël takes another sleeping pill so that he doesn’t dream. Ivan, the protagonist of his script, also avoids nightmares with some pharmaceuticals. In the film, like in the logic of a dream, the threads intertwine with each other, the past mixes with the present, the elusive peace is sharply interrupted with suffering. Jealousy and lies hurt as much as the moments of true love and erotic elation. Characters evolve and change – nobody is completely who we thought they were. Typically, the picture changes the tone, from melodramatic to comedic, as if the director wanted to further emphasize the syncretism of his production.
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While watching this movie I thought about a pill I could take to not participate in watching it. This film is not easy to follow and often makes the viewer irritated. Watching it is a huge challenge, as different moods and stories exist almost randomly next to each other. It’s a bit chaotic and parallel to the logic of a dream to explain it’s structure is rather lazy. It seems that Desplechin wanted to put a bit too much in Ismael’s Ghosts and somehow lost control over it. Stories seem fascinating at first, but get very boring after a while. It’s a shame, because actors perform really well, especially Amalric is a pleasure to watch as a suffering artist.
One of my friends wrote in his opinion about this one: „if you’re looking for a good French drama, you better skip Ismael’s Ghosts – you will not find the quality of French movies here”. Amen to that.
Ismaël’s Ghosts / Les fantômes d’Ismaël
dir. Arnaud Desplechin
Starring: Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Luis Garrel
An Arrow Films release premieres in cinemas across the UK and Ireland on the June the 1st.