There is a tendency among critics to assume that an inscrutable, disjointed, overlong, tendentious film with characters bearing the names Bloom and Dedalus - must be paying homage to James Joyce’s Ulysses and must therefore be deep. There is also the tendency to give a pass or the benefit of one’s doubt to a director who has achieved some prominence with past work. So this rebuke is meant for movie-goers only - do not fall into the same trap as the pro’s. Ismael’s Ghosts, starring Matthieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg - all first rate French actors - is a mess. It asks viewers to do the work of turning a grab-bag of plots and characters into a coherent narrative - something the screenwriter is supposed to do way before filming begins.
There is the re-entry of a woman who disappeared 20 years before the film takes place and has been presumed dead; there is her husband, the filmmaker creating a story based on his brother, a mysterious spy; there is the woman’s father - a master filmmaker whom her husband idolizes and who will be honored at a Tel-Aviv Film Festival; there is an astro-physicist who is in love with the deserted husband/director and an actress who is in the film with the film who is smitten with him too. At his best - all 110 pounds of him - Matthieu is not a sexy man; in this movie he is increasingly more dirty, disheveled, sleep-deprived and bug-eyed - the kind of man anyone but the French would hose down before touching Yet we are meant to believe that the beautiful Marion Cotillaard needs to be frontally nude in an attempt to win him back. After seeing over-the hill Stormy Daniels on tv, we know that Marion would only need to expose one of her shapely legs to get a man’s attention. But why would she want to? Why would anyone?
“As is customary in Mr. Desplechin’s work, there’s a lot of dialogue in “Ismael’s Ghosts,” but this movie’s nerve endings vibrate most avidly and tenderly in scenes where not a word is spoken: Sylvia on her first ride home with Ismael, looking up in serene rapture from a cab window toward the night sky; Ismael, angry and confused, framed between walls at the top of a dark staircase; Carlotta in tears, letting the blast of water from an ornamental shower head blast against her brow. It’s moments like these that make Ismael’s Ghosts” an unforgettable experience. (Glenn Kenny, NYT 3/22)
Caution: this is critic’s snake oil. Do not believe a word of it and do not go near this film - it will make you more frustrated and angry than its characters and you will find yourself wishing that you could watch The Sound of Music a few times to clear Ismael from memory. I’ve just done you a big solid - you are very welcome.
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