Les Fantômes d’Ismaël

Hitchcock, Bergman, Truffaut? Non!

May 24, 2017By Heidi EllisonFilm
ParisUpdate-Les Fantômes d’Ismaël2
Marion Cotillard as Carlotta and Mathieu Almaric as Ismaêl.

The popular French film director Arnaud Desplechin is back with a new movie, Les Fantômes d’Ismaël (Ismael’s Ghosts), which opened this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

This is another one of the director’s sprawling, apparently autobiographical, angst-ridden psychodramas, so sprawling that he has effectively made two films out of it: a version that lasts one hour and 45 minutes and another, the “director’s cut,” which lasts two hours and 15 minutes. Understandably, most cinemas are showing the former.

Ismaël (Mathieu Amalric, a Desplechin favorite) is a tormented film director who constantly drinks whisky, even while writing (when will that ridiculous cliché finally die?). He is afraid to sleep because he is plagued with horrendous nightmares (thankfully, he never recounts them). Also tormented by horrific nightmares is his elderly father-in-law, Bloom (Laszlo Szabo), with whom he stays in touch even though Carlotta (Marion Cotillard), Ismaël’s wife and Bloom’s daughter, disappeared 21 years earlier and has never been heard from again.

Ismaël is slowly repairing his life and has a rather more stable relationship with a new girlfriend, Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg, playing an astrophysicist, of all things), when the ethereally beautiful Carlotta suddenly turns up and insinuates herself into the idyllic life of the couple, who are vacationing on the Côte d’Azur. She wants her man back and fights hard to get him.

Not surprisingly, this causes much anguish and leads to a great deal of shouting, lovemaking and even a heart attack among various characters.

The confusing subplot, supposedly the subject of the screenplay Ismaël is writing, involves Ivan Dedalus (meaningful last name alert!), played by Louis Garrel (nearly unrecognizable without his mop of black hair), an accidental spy.

It’s all very melodramatic, but what is the point? Perhaps those who have the patience to go to the long version will find out, because there is no satisfaction to be had from the completely discordant “happy ending” of this version.

The French press, enamored of Desplechin, universally praised this film. One review even compared it to the work of Hitchcock (because one of the characters is named Carlotta, as in Vertigo? – too easy; where is the Hitchcockian suspense?), Truffaut (because it’s a French film about French characters? – where is the charm?), Bergman (because there is lots of anguish in the film? – where is the psychological depth?).

I’m sorry, but I just can’t place the self-indulgent Desplechin on the same level as those three brilliant auteurs.

The same review gleefully seeks out references in the film to Desplechin’s previous movies – how terribly clever of him to cite himself!

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