Cannes opened with a knotty, indulgent film about a knotted, indulgent film maker. Here on the Croisette, at least, they know their audience.
Ismael’s Ghosts, by Arnaud Desplechin had a starry enough cast to ensure red carpet glamour and a relative murmur of international interest. Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg and the eternally neurotic Mathieu Amalric caught in a love triangle is a decent enough tag line for any movie.
However, Desplechin’s film rarely penetrates its own intellectual fug to deliver anything like the necessary frisson, even when Cotillard fully disrobes. Amalric plays a frazzled film maker and scriptwriter who can only write surrounded by empty whisky bottles and cigarettes piling up in the ashtray.
The relationship between Ismael and Gainsbourg’s Sylvia is shattered by the mysterious return of his ex-wife Carlotta (well spotted, a reference to Hitchcock’s Vertigo) who they thought had disappeared 20 years ago, presumed dead.
Played by Cotillard at her most diva-ish, Carlotta maintains a ghostly presence throughout, mainly because the script fails to make her compelling or even performable, and we get a pile of ticks and wide-eyed smiles, eventually succumbing to what I can only assume is a sort of brain freeze in the form of a quite ridiculous dance routine to Bob Dylan.
Ismael’s Ghosts collapses under the dazzle of its own ideas while Desplechin wrestles with a perennial artistic conundrum: how to depict an artist who has lost control without oneself losing control of the material?