Dir: Arnaud Desplechin | Cast: Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel, Mathieu Amalric | Hippolyte Girardot, Alba Rohrwacher | Drama | 110min | France
Cannes 70th Anniversary got off to a wildly pretentious start with Arnaud Desplechin’s sprawling fantasy melodrama made enjoyable by sparkling performances from two of France’s leading female stars: Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg.
The histrionic storyline follows Matthieu Amalric in his usual tortured role as a neurotic chain-smoking writer whose wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) was declared missing 20 years previously. Emotionally unstable he falls for Charlotte Gainsbourg’s charming and calming single astrophysicist, whose cross to bear is raising her disabled brother – who never actually appears.
Into this budding romantic melee plops the delicately distraite adventurist Carlotta who has been wandering the globe, much to the chagrin of her dying father and her husband. She now turns up out of the blue to reclaim her husband and have his baby. Is she a ghost or a real person, do we really care? She puts a spanner in the works for all concerned and appears just to illuminate Ismael’s ambivalence about what he really wants from a partner, and out of life. At this point a redundant strand that fails to serve the narrative – apart from adding an exotic twist – involves unqualified outsider Louis Garrel. Hired as a diplomat by the French government, he’s sent to a mythical North African country with his new bride, a playful Alba Rohrwacher, and this is where the film loses its way, and our interest.
From here on the disorientating narrative flips backwards and forwards, careening between sparks of quirky humour, wild reverie and erotic moments where Cotillard reveals all but, judiciously, Gainsbourg remains gracefully un-décolleté (and strangely more interesting and appealing as Ismael’s real love). Funny how Deplechin’s female characters are eminently more interesting but only ever exist to serve his one-dimentional men. That said, there is much to admire in this hotchpotch: a sweepingly romantic score that punctuates the occasional moments of intrique, Irina Lubtchansky’s sweeping camerawork conveys claustrophobia in tight corridors, and soaring delirium in widescreen shots, but nothing ultimately hangs together. ISMAEL’S GHOSTS is best remembered as a vehicle for Garrel, Gainsbourg, and Cotillard and some flashes of momentary brilliance in a rather disturbed nightmare . MT
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | 17-28 MAY 2017