Cannes review: Ismaël’s Ghosts (2017)

Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismaël’s Ghosts is an abstract, at times melodramatic interweaving of nightmare, filmmaking, fiction and reality.


by Alexa Dalby

Ismaël’s Ghosts

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

As the opening film of the Cannes Film Festival’s 70th anniversary, Ismaël’s Ghosts (Les Fantômes d’Ismaël) is a drama that’s almost comically melodramatic at times.

Mathieu Almaric is dishevelled film director Ismaël, from the same home town as director Arnaud Desplechin, Roubaix. He is making an uncompelling film based on the life of his brother Ivan (Louis Garrel), who may be a spy. Alba Rohrwacher has a supporting role as Ivan’s wife, who is not what she initially appears to be, and there’s a cameo by Jacques Delot as a bureaucrat in France’s diplomatic service. Ismaël’s wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard), who deserted him 21 years earlier and has been presumed dead, reappears after 21 years, suddenly on the beach at his holiday cottage. She disrupts his relationship with astrophysicist Sylvie (Charlotte Gainsbourg), his writing of his current film and he becomes so deranged he abandons it and has to be tracked down by his producer.

There’s much overturning of furniture, shouting, drinking of wine early in the morning and waking nightmares. Desplechin intercuts between two stories and varied places (France, Tajikistan, Prague) brutally and almost haphazardly as each lurches along an unsatisfying trajectory. None of them ring true.

Auteur Desplechin’s feature debut, The Sentinel, played in competition in Cannes 25 years ago and his most successful work is A Christmas Tale. Ismaël’s Ghosts is sadly not one of his master works.

Ismaël’s Ghosts is showing at the 70th Cannes Film Festival.

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