By Mónica Delgado

Opening Cannes with an Arnaud Desplechin film was an outstanding debt, especially because two years ago, his film Trois souveniers de ma jeunesse was presented in the Quinzaine de Realisateurs and ignored by the official selection, an act which was seen as a disservice to one of the most ludic and talented filmmakers of France. With Les Fantômes d’Ismael, Desplechin delivers a film whose caliber seems appropriate with the opening of the world’s biggest film festival, a film that hasn’t fallen in the trap of the politically correct, the social statement or the Hollywood-type film, things that have happened years before. The filmmaker deploys his personal motivations as a creator, giving life to a character that is both an alter ego and literary monster, in a story full of bizarre humor, absurd and oneiric.

This opening film didn’t awake any empathy in the spectators, something that reminds us that films of dubitable quality as La tête haute or Grace of Mónaco received a standing ovation (or at least amicable clapping) in former editions. However,  this is still a remarkable film. In Ismael’s Ghosts, Desplechin uses the “puzzle style” to invoke the creative demons of a screenwriter/filmmaker in activity, a man trapped in a world of unreality, which is proper of the fictions that motivate and fascinate him. It’s a particular mise in scene, which confuses the spectator. Desplechin’s fantasies are dealt here in a different tonality than before, a tonality of quotes and evocations, even with hitchcockian raptures.

A filmmaker (Mathieu Amalric) in creative crisis is perturbed for the appearance of his dead wife (Marion Cotillard). His current girlfriend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who serves as a containing wall of his ambivalent processes is affected by this apparition. The ghosts in the film are not only related with this return of the dead wife (very much like Vertigo), but also with the dissatisfaction of the filmmaker with his new film (a detective story lead by Louis Garrel, where the huge Jacques Nolot has a small role). In Desplechin words, these ghosts refer to the swarming universe of the past and the present, like in Fellini’s 8 ½.

There’s an irregular appearance in Desplechin’s twelfth film, precisely marked by the ramblings of the lead character, who molds the mise in scene little by little, a story dwelling with ghostly overprints and generic motifs of absurdist comedy. However, this versatility allows for a flexible film, filled with reminiscences, that achieves moments of unreal and comic fascinations.

Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Script: Arnaud Desplechin
Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Why Not Productions
France, 2017