Ismael’s Ghosts (Cannes cut) Screen 9 articles

Ismael’s Ghosts (Cannes cut)

Ismael’s Ghosts (Cannes cut) Poster
  • If storylines were measured in yardage, laid end to end the film’s narratives could comfortably lasso the moon, but its very fundamental problem is that they’re not laid end-to-end. Nor are they tangled up: the temptation is to call it “labyrinthine,” but that would misunderstand the nature of labyrinths. Instead all the film’s many disparate story strands unfold in parallel, never touching, never crossing, never illuminating each other.

  • It’s a busy, convulsive and fragmentary piece of work, with strange plot turns and dazzling formal gimmicks (iris shots, intra-scene dissolves, weirdly unmotivated music cues) coming at you every minute. But then the thing derails and becomes, shall we say, the wrong kind of mess.

  • This is a vision so consciously expressive and overloaded with formal decoration (time jumps, iris-ins, rear-projection montage, direct address to camera and so on) that it finds itself explicitly likening its manically layered structure to Jackson Pollock’s Lavender Mist — an abstract swamp of dribbled information that, if considered in the context of the artist’s earlier works, can be seen as a figurative depiction of “all the women he could never touch.”

  • Speaking as a Desplechin agnostic, I can’t say I’m outraged, as some critics here have been, by the self-indulgence of Ismael’s Ghosts; good on him for not boring us, or letting us get too comfortable with a neatly tailored narrative. But here he simply doesn’t seem to have been willing to commit himself to any one of the films that this might have been.

  • The rich, digressive stories don’t complement each other as well as they should and the slippery formal sense shuts out, rather than enhances the film’s emotional logic. Ismael’s Ghosts is brash and confident, but also flawed and deeply frustrating; its sense of humor, especially, often lands with a merciless thud. But there’s also a richness of imagination that’s impossible to dismiss.

  • The film can feel underdeveloped (Cotillard, for example, is able to do Desplechinian melodrama, but the actress seems less capable of exuding the intelligence that's the hallmark of the director's female characters), and it isn't as consistently exhilarating as My Sex Life or Kings and Queen. But it's just about the perfect Cannes opener: looking back in celebration and with reverence, and rich with the possibility of what's to come.

  • Yes, it’s a mess, an occasionally glorious one all told, and the last thing you’d ever want to happen is for Desplechin to settle down, mothball his fixations (diplomacy, rap music, iris shots, the northern French city of Roubaix) and make something for the kids in the peanut gallery... Maybe this is the end of a cycle for this idiosyncratic maestro? Can’t wait to see what he does next, even if he does feel like taking one more bite of the cherry.

  • If you’re going to name a protagonist Carlotta and help yourself to some Bernard Hermann music, you’d better be out to entertain with a sure hand. Desplechin delivers with flying colours thanks to an excellent cast and a sometimes serious, sometimes funny story that never lets up or becomes predictable.

  • With its vast cast of characters, constantly shifting planes of reality, and overabundance of citations and allusions, Ismael’s Ghosts is inevitably bloated and disjointed. But, like Ulysses, the film’s sheer scope and ambition, as well as the panache of its execution, render it intoxicating and immensely fun to get lost in. It’s also a work whose pleasures and complexities can’t be fully grasped or appreciated in a single viewing.

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