Review: Les fantômes d’Ismael (2017)

Les fantômes d’Ismael (2017)

Directed by: Arnaud Desplechin | 110 minutes | drama, romance, thriller | Actors: Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Louis Garrel, Alba Rohrwacher, László Szabó, Hippolyte Girardot, Jacques Nolot, Catherine Mouchet

Bohemian Ishmael (Mathieu Amalric) still mourns for her twenty years after the disappearance of his wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard). For two years he has had Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a gentle astrophysicist. When the past catches up with Ishmael, he retreats to the family home to face past demons. French feel-good drama with an experienced cast.

We get an indefinable scrapbook feeling at the beginning of ‘Les fantômes d’Ismaël’. A charismatic but expired director with a sweet young girlfriend. A seemingly pointless subplot about a young diplomat (Philippe Garrel) by the name of Daedalus (there are more references to James Joyce’s book ‘Ulysses’). And then a scene like in ‘Sous le sable’, in which Carlotta (also a phantom character in ‘Vertigo’) appears to Sylvia.

Back at Ishmael, Sylvia tells of the incident, not a delusion as it turns out. It is certainly fascinating, because of the fine ensemble. We’d love to spoiler, but what else can you do with your imagination? We can probably reveal that the love triangle exists in the image, and the fantastic threesome can do something about it. Amalric à l’improviste, Gainsbourg full of gentle confidence and Cotillard intense as ever.

Anyway, we can tell that Carlotta comes to stay with the couple, and turns out to have faked her death at the time. Ishmael explodes and Sylvia remains calm, supportive. The manic Amalric takes over this process, but then the feel-good card is played. As if it’s possible that a long-lost wife moves in with you and your boyfriend. It is admirable that you hold your ground, also as an actress in your role.

Sylvia always seems to wonder if she is not dealing with a ghost, at least a psychiatric patient. After all, Carlotta continues to have a ghostly appearance. As a viewer, you also stay on your guard, because Desplechin may have misled you. Carlotta appears to have erred spiritually in the years before, but why she ever left Ishmael remains unclear.

Ishmael goes mad, because the woman who appears to him is no longer the same as in his memory. Interesting, and we’re already halfway through the film in the settlement. It meanders – even wanders, but sticks because the film is actually about whether we love someone enough to forget the predecessor. Or, after the loved one vanishes into thin air, we can still love someone else.

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