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Ismael’s Ghosts (2017) Blu-ray Review


Arnaud Desplechin is turning into something of an auteur film director, even by the handful of films he has thus far made. He has gathered around him a regular ensemble of actors who appear to greater or lesser roles in his films including in this film, his regulars Mathias Amalric, Hippolyte Giradot, Laszlo Szabo and, not in his latest film, Ismael’s Ghosts, Catherine Deneuve and Emmauelle Devos.  As with other, this film also has a familial relationship at the heart of it. This is Desplechin’s 10th film in his almost 30 year career and has a similar feel to some of his previous efforts.

Amalric (best remembered as Daniel Greene, the Bond villain in Quantum of Solace, 2008) plays the titular Ismaël, a director who is at something of a crossroads with the film he is making. He begins a relationship with Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and in time the pair grow close. One day Ismaël’s ex-wife, Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) approaches Sylvia on the beach while Ismaël is inside their summer place working. Sylvia is aware that 20 years ago Carlotta Bloom walked out on her husband and disappeared. She is now back and makes it quite clear to Sylvia that she wants to get back with Ismaël. This naturally de-stabilises and upsets Sylvia, making her situation very insecure. She was aware that Ismaël took years to get over this and still has her portrait hanging (surely a reference to Kim Novak’s character, Carlotta Valdes in Hitchcock’s Vertigo?). Sylvia tries to maintain her stability while it is not long before it is Ismaël, aided by the pressures of the film he is making that leads to his life spiralling out of control.

There is a sense that in places the film meanders, but is picked up by some first rate performances. It is this, along with a couple of sub-plots where the film works. The filmmaking aspect has frankly been much better realised in other French films such as Truffaut’s Day for Night (La nuit Americain) (1973) or Irma Vep (1992). One of these sub-plots has Ismaël still friendly with his ageing father-in-law Henri Bloom, a former renowned filmmaker and idolised by Ismaël who believes he is having nightmares that his daughter is still alive and is haunting him. Needless to say, this does happen in the film. Bloom is played by Szabo, former regular in many a film of the nouvelle vague. In another scene as Ismaël appears to be having a nervous breakdown he waves his gun around at his producer friend, (regular of Desplechin, Giradot) in one of the films funnier scenes. Another scene has Carlotta dancing awkwardly to Bob Dylan’s ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ in front of a dumbfounded Sylvia. This scene is reminiscent to one in A Bigger Splash (2015), Luca Guadagnino’s film about another visitation, in this case a rock star who has lost her voice who receives a visit from an old friend from the past, creating conflict.

While it is meandering, Desplechin’s film is entertaining, although it is equally a little irritating in places but is none the less thoroughly watchable. The Arrow Academy release comes as a dual format package on Blu-ray in both the 113 minute theatrical release and the 134 minute director’s cut. In addition, on the disc there are interviews with Gainsbourg, Cotillard and Desplechin.

Chris Hick


Chris Hick