Alas, the result, which is reportedly one of two cuts (select Parisian cinemas, where the film debuts at the same time as the Cannes opening ceremony, are getting 20 additional minutes), is a surprisingly cold, mechanical affair, driven by hollow symbolisms.
The main character, Amalric’s Ismael, is working on a film based on his brother’s life, and retreats to his usual seaside holiday spot for some thinking, accompanied by his partner Sylvia (Gainsbourg). While ostensibly happy with her, Ismael is still haunted by the absence of his wife Carlotta (Cotillard), who disappeared 20 years ago and is officially declared dead. All of a sudden she resurfaces, and her impact on Ismael’s life appears set to have devastating consequences.
All three actors, ably assisted by Louis Garrel and Italian star Alba Rohrwacher in sequences showcasing the (much more interesting) film within the film, deliver emotionally naked and largely compelling performances, although the uneven direction occasionally fails to ground some of Amalric’s less subtle moments. With names and faces plucked from previous Desplechin films, Ismael’s Ghosts is as much a summation of the director’s own work as it is a standalone piece of material, albeit with an obsession for atmosphere over plot that compromises the story’s emotional core.
Most frustratingly, the film-making aspect itself is largely kept in the background, an element that is particularly disappointing in light of the film’s place in the Cannes schedule. While the choice makes sense considering the relationship between festival and film-maker (a bond that needed a little mending, as those in the know will tell you), it remains baffling in terms of kicking off the world’s most important cinematic event.
|What||Ismael’s Ghosts review|
16 Dec 17 – 31 Jan 18, Show times vary