Ismael’s Ghosts (2017) **

May 25th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Arnaud Desplechin | Cast: Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel, Mathieu Amalric | Hippolyte Girardot, Alba Rohrwacher | Drama | 110min | France

Cannes 70th Anniversary got off to a wildly pretentious start with Arnaud Desplechin’s sprawling fantasy melodrama made watchable by sparkling performances from two of France’s leading female stars: Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

The histrionic storyline follows Matthieu Amalric, in his usual tortured turn as a neurotic chain-smoking writer whose wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) was declared missing 20 years previously. Emotionally unstable, he falls for Charlotte Gainsbourg’s charming and calming single astrophysicist, whose cross to bear is raising her disabled brother – who never actually appears.

Into this budding romantic mêlée plops the delicately distraite adventurist Carlotta who has been wandering the globe, much to the chagrin of her dying father and her husband.  She now turns up out of the blue to reclaim her husband and have his baby. Is she a ghost or a real person, do we really care? She puts a spanner in the works for all concerned – and only to illuminate Ismael’s ambivalence about what he really wants from a partner, and out of life in general. At this point Desplechin’s adds a exotic twist to proceedings involving Louis Garrel, who plays a diplomat hired by the French government, to a mythical North African country with his new bride, a playful Alba Rohwacher. And this is where the film loses its way (and our interest) as it slips backwards and forwards, careening between sparks of quirky humour, wild reverie and erotic moments where Cotillard reveals all but, judiciously, Gainsbourg remains gracefully un-décolletée – and strangely more interesting and appealing – as Ismael’s true love).

Funny how Déplechin’s female characters are eminently more interesting but only ever exist to serve his one-dimentional men. That said, there is much to admire in this hotchpotch: a sweepingly romantic score that punctuates the occasional moments of intrigue, Irina Lubtchansky’s intricate camerawork that conveys claustrophobia in tight corridors, and soaring delirium in widescreen shots; but nothing ultimately hangs together. ISMAEL’S GHOSTS is best remembered as a vehicle for Garrel, Gainsbourg, and Cotillard, and some flashes of momentary brilliance in a rather disturbed nightmare . MT


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