Magazine article Screen International

'Ismael's Ghosts': Cannes Review (Opening Film)

Magazine article Screen International

'Ismael's Ghosts': Cannes Review (Opening Film)

Article excerpt

Arnaud Desplechin opens Cannes 70 with a display of daring and panache.

Dir: Arnaud Desplechin. France. 2017. 115mins

A jubilantly complex tale within a tale -- possibly within yet another tale -- Arnaud Desplechin's Ismael's Ghosts (Les Fantômes d'Ismaël) exudes the lived-in familiarity of a director who knows his characters inside out and the daring and panache of a creator whose creations are still full of surprises, even for him. If you're going to name a protagonist Carlotta and help yourself to some Bernard Hermann music, you'd better be out to entertain with a sure hand. Desplechin delivers with flying colours thanks to an excellent cast and a sometimes serious, sometimes funny story that never lets up or becomes predictable.

The stories bounce around in time but are suspenseful and intriguing rather than confusing

After opening Cannes Out of Competition on May 17 and a bound-to-be popular run in France starting that same day (also in a 130-minute version), these ghosts seem destined to haunt art houses far and wide.

Any attentive movie-goer should be able to navigate this free-standing episode even though it's salted and peppered with reoccurring elements from other Desplechin outings. It would be criminal to delineate which aspects should be taken at face value and which are best filed under narrative sleight-of-hand, but here is the basic armature.

Ismael (Mathieu Amalric, in his seventh escapade with Desplechin), a filmmaker, describes himself as a widower. He married Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) when she was just 20 years-old. A few years later she vanished without a trace. No body or evidence of foul play was ever found. Her eighty-something father Henri Bloom (Lazlo Szabo), a noteworthy film director, has been grieving her loss for two decades, as has Ismael, who was finally obliged to have the authorities legally classify Carlotta as "missing," reluctant to have her declared "dead."

Since he's a creative type from Central Casting, Ismael drinks to excess, smokes quite a bit and takes multiple pills to combat the horrific nightmares that plague his sleep. Ismael and Henri are very close. They have in common the torment of not knowing what became of the same loved one, but Ismael also admires Henri's strengths as an artist.

Almost 20 years after Carlotta's disappearance, Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) meets Ismael at a party. She's a seemingly austere and somewhat prim astrophysicist (yes, really) and she's the only character who makes an occasional contribution via voice-over. …

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