Cannes Review: Ismael’s Ghosts

Score: C-

Director: Arnaud Desplechin

Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel

Running Time: 114 Minutes

Rated: NR

In independent film, more times than not less is more.

Someone forgot to tell Arnaud Desplechin this as his overly ambitious, star studded Ismaël’s Ghosts is a bit too complex and scattered to work as a concise narrative.

Within the first half hour Desplechin attempts to interweave espionage, a resurrection and a filmmaker’s mid-project crisis into once succinct storyline.  The result is unfortunate as you quickly find yourself lost within the details, fixated on the common denominator as you attempt to decipher the broad strokes and make sense of the mess.

Ismael’s Ghosts begins within the confines of a film, as imagined by its main character: a high octane spy thriller that centers around a young recruit, Louie Garrel’s Ivan.  But minutes later Desplechin pulls out, revealing a broader universe in which our film’s main character, a screenwriter, struggles to work out a complex screenplay.  Still haunted by the sudden disappearance of his wife 20 years ago, Mathieu Amalric’s Ismael has presumed her dead, attempting to move on while still caring for her ailing father.

But things aren’t as they seem as Ismael’s late wife (Marion Cotillard) shows up on the beach one day, eager to return to the world still troubled by her unexpected departure.  Cotillard is by far the best of the bunch, offering up stellar interactions with both Amalric and Charlotte Gainsbourg.  Her ability to express so much emotion while doing so litter is a testament to her characterization, giving the convoluted film a backbone on which to stand.

But Cotillard can only do so much as the film falls victim to itself, unable to pick a genre, thus coming off as a hodgepodge of individual scenes that just so happen to star the same actors.  Gainsbourg’s Sylvia is nearly forgotten during the second act as Ismael’s actions take center stage, something that would likely work in a different, controlled environment, but spins out of control quickly here.

Desplechin’s last ditch effort to stir up some laughs (and ultimately save his movie) fall short as viewers have long since checked out of the chaotic, disjointed film.  And who can blame them?  The film fails to connect, leaving those who originally opted for the journey behind as it attempts to piece together a series of good ideas to mass failure.

Ismaël’s Ghosts takes its viewers for granted, using them as it attempts to make something out of nothing.  It’s disconnected, incomplete, and to be frank, an unneeded story (or group of) that’s downfall lies within itself as it attempts to trick you into thinking there is something more lying under the top layer.  I’ll save you the trouble - there isn’t.


About Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis
I owe this hobby/career to the one and only Stephanie Peterman who, while interning at Fox, told me that I had too many opinions and irrelevant information to keep it all bottled up inside. I survived my first rated R film, Alive, at the ripe age of 8, it took me months to grasp the fact that Julia Roberts actually died at the end of Steel Magnolias, and I might be the only person alive who actually enjoyed Sorority Row…for its comedic value of course. While my friends can drink you under the table, I can outwatch you when it comes iconic, yet horrid 80s films like Adventures in Babysitting and Troop Beverly Hills. I have no shame when it comes to what I like, and if you have a problem with that, then we’ll settle it on the racquetball court. I see too many movies to actually win any film trivia contest, so don’t waste your first pick on me. My friends rent movies from my bookcase shelves, and one day I do plan to start charging. I long to live in LA, where my movie obsession will actually help me fit in, but for now I am content with my home in Austin. I prefer indies to blockbusters, Longhorns to Sooners and Halloween to Friday the 13th. I miss the classics, as well as John Ritter, and I hope to one day sit down and interview the amazing Kate Winslet.

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