In what is their seventh collaboration together, Arnaud Desplechin and Mathieu Amalric offer up a fevered, impenetrable film that might prove too inaccessible even for French art-house cinema, which might possibly be the point.
Troubled and widowed filmmaker Ismael Vuillard (Amalric) retreats to the seaside with his lover, Sylvia (Gainsbourg) to complete his latest work, an espionage film following Ivan Dedalus, loosely based on Vuillard’s real life brother (who also bears the last name of one of Amalric’s earlier characters in Desplechin’s haphazard cosmere, Paul Dedalus). Their tranquility is interrupted when Vuillard’s wife, Carlotta (Cotillard), who was presumed dead after disappearing twenty years previously, shows up by the sea out of the blue.
Ismael’s Ghosts is a motion picture in the purest sense of the word. The images on screen flit from the present-day – as Carlotta takes great pleasure in torturing Sylvia with the ease – to hazy, intimate vignettes of Ismael and Sylvia’s early courtship. Undercutting all of this, often suddenly and with very little warning, is the story of Ivan Dedalus, the film within the film. Although littered with the piercing commentary that is a hallmark of Desplechin’s, the dialogue is almost irrelevant in the non-linear narrative, with its forward and backward jumps in time. There is a sense of Desplechin searching for answers to his own questions, and he seems to delight in alienating his audience, inviting them to peer into this tumultuous world with him, while consistently keeping any answers out of reach.
The world of Ismael’s Ghosts is tenuously build around Ismael, and as both he and the film deteriorate in front of our eyes in spectacular fashion, the hand that holds the threads begins to feel less steady as the filmmaker loses his grip on what is reality and what is fiction.
CAST: Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel
DIRECTOR: Arnaud Desplechin
WRITER: Arnaud Desplechin
SYNOPSIS: A filmmaker’s life is sent into a tailspin by the return of his wife, who disappeared 20 years ago and whom he thought dead.