Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. For more information please visit www.festival-cannes.com/en or follow the Cannes Film Festival on Twitter.
Arnaud Desplechin’s opening film Ismael’s Ghosts is a portrait of a filmmaker (Mathieu Almaric) who is haunted by his past and thrown into a loop when his wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) suddenly returns and re-enters his life. Over decades, Ismael had been searching for her and eventually declared her dead after she vanished for no reason and had been absent for 21 years. He was left behind, unable to resolve the mystery of his wife’s disappearance and forced to live with his grief and anger.
The self-absorbed and nightmare-ridden director has yet managed to move on with his life. He is in a loving relationship with Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), an astrophysicist with her “head in the stars”. Although she once states that she prefers married men, she is happy with Ismael, who is technically a widower up until Carlotta’s return. In his professional life, Ismael is busy with a project inspired by his own brother, whom he believes to be a spy. To overcome his creative crisis and finally finish the script for this upcoming film in ease, Ismael leaves for the beach side with Sylvia only to find Carlotta unexpectedly knocking on his door and complicating his life. Her surprising return throws Ismael on an emotional roller-coaster and he has to come to terms with his past and his present.
The structure of the Desplechin’s film is fragmented and alternates between various storylines of Ismael’s personal and professional life. The film opens with a sequence of Ismael’s current project and introduces the fictional espionage thriller within the actual film and its main character, Ivan Dedalus (Louis Garrel) a diplomat and secret agent. Ivan’s story keeps coming back throughout the film stirring confusion and interrupting the far more interesting main plot of Carlotta’s return and Ismael being torn between his former wife and current girlfriend.
In the end, Desplechin’s film tackles too many issues and stories within his plot and leaves too many loose ends. With a stellar A-list cast lead by Mathieu Almaric, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg it is further unfortunate that Desplechin’s characters remain underdeveloped. Similar to Ismael’s unfinished film, Ismael’s Ghost feels quite incoherent and incomplete.
Similar to Ismael's unfinished film, Ismael's Ghost feels quite incoherent and incomplete.