Ismael’s Ghosts (Les Fantômes D’Ismaël) is three things: confusing, silly and utterly boring.
Director Arnaud Desplechin’s new film centers around Ismael Vuillard (Mathieu Amalric), an alcoholic and drugged-up screenwriter who descends into madness when his long-lost wife — Carlotta Bloom (Marion Cotillard) — returns, set on taking him back.
It opens up to a shot of a man in gray hurriedly walking through the streets of Paris. He asks for a man named “Dedalus” but is left unsatisfied. A few minutes later, Ismael appears, comforting famed director Henri Bloom (László Szabó) who is suffering from nightmares of his daughter’s presumed death.
There seems to be no connection between the two scenes whatsoever, and that is how Ismael’s Ghosts is, until the last thirty minutes, when it is too late to care. Spies and filmmakers pollute this too-long film, and Desplechin explains the connection in just one scene.
Worse is that new characters — most of them terrible people — get introduced with new plotlines that, in general, seem to have no relation to the central plot at all. Desplechin hops from genre to genre, from thriller to drama to romance — but they all only end up in one muddled mess.
Amalric as Ismael is a force to be reckoned with — but in just a few scenes. His angry outbursts, the brightness of his eyes and his unkempt clothing give an impression of a man gone mad. Otherwise, he stays rather placid; drinking wine, smoking or cheating on Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg).
Cotillard as Carlotta is the real disappointment, however. One of the most well known French actresses of all time, and she has yet to show any emotion worth noticing in Desplechin’s project. It shouldn’t have been hard to do: Carlotta is a bitch.
Ismael’s Ghosts’ star is Gainsbourg as Sylvia. With her heavy sighs, philosophical notions and the resoluteness in her voice, Gainsbourg pulls off our pained but well-meaning counterpart of the chaotic Ismael.
None of the characters are easy to empathize with and are rather one-dimensional.
Some scenes are worth mentioning: Cotillard dancing to Bob Dylan’s “It Ain’t Me Babe” and Gainsbourg quietly watching, and Cotillard comforting Szabó in the hospital after 21 years — both are effective and intriguing.
The sceneries do most of the acting. From the beach to the train rides, the characters struggle through life amid the soothing sounds of the waves and the consistent chug-chug of the train wheels.
Desplechin strives for ambition and fails. He eventually ties everything up but loosely. In other words, Ismael’s Ghosts is worth falling asleep to.