New York Film Festival Review: “Ismael`s Ghosts” (2017) ★★

Simple storyline is something we should rarely expect to find in European film. In most cases, we can know from the beginning – there will be no such thing as a simple story. I’d say, complicating the storyline with the already messed up life of the character is not a very good idea. Firstly, that can take the viewer to a wrong direction. Secondly, the entire film might be ruined when overly complicated. And thirdly, in the end, it might end up as a waste of all the talent involved in the film. All the above mentioned can be related to Arnaud Desplechin’s recent film – “Ismael’s Ghosts”. The great potential has remained unused, and I am afraid it won’t have any impact on the viewer no matter how hard you try.

“Ismael’s Ghosts” follows the title character Ismael Vuillard (Mathieu Amalric). He is a film director, about to start a new film, when his whole life is turned into an emotional roller-coaster because of the return of his wife Carlotta Bloom (Marion Cotillard), who has been missing for twenty years. He still loves her. Now, Ismael is trying to find a way to cope with the changes her sudden reappearance has brought to his life. His relationship with his girlfriend Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is at stake, as well as his sanity. Soon Ismael realizes that there is no way he can handle all of this. Carlotta and her free spirit have managed to bring back those dangerous feelings that can easily destroy the little peaceful heaven Ismael has built during her absence.

Neither the synopsis nor going deep into the storyline or observing how the plot unfolds will give you enough insights to what exactly went wrong in Arnaud Desplechin’s film and why. One thing is clear – the screenplay is quite messy, trying to develop five independent storylines in one film and has missed concentrating on one central plotline. For instance, Marion Cotillard’s Carlotta is an amazing middle-aged character, who could otherwise deserve an entire movie dedicated to her persona. Or, the relationship between Ismael and Sylvia is another astonishing part of the film, that again never got enough screen time for us to admire.

Carlotta’s father is an old man, who wants to locate the whereabouts of his daughter. I would love to learn more about him than the film could offer. All these details make the film not so unbearable to watch, but too long to seat through its end. Yet, even if you manage to last throughout the film, it is unclear what exactly the filmmaker tries to deliver. I am a big fan of European Cinema, but still, I could not understand the director’s message in this film.

In conclusion, I know many people might enjoy watching “Ismael’s Ghosts”, and I can even see why. It’s not as awful as my review might’ve described. And if, by any chance, it sounds that bad, then I’ve failed in trying to explain my viewpoint clearly. Desplechin’s film is one of those that will always search for a dedicated heart, and once fount, will reside in it forever. But as you know, not every heart can accept something that comes from outside, and not every film can be loved or accepted by the viewer. I believe “Ismael’s Ghosts” will have to fight hard for its place on the screens, and the battle for the wider audiences is yet to come.

Still, I really wish, I might be wrong, and Desplechin is right. And I truly hope you love this film more than I do.


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