Ismael (Mathieu Amalric) is a famous movie director who is haunted by the ghosts of his past. His wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) disappeared 21 years ago and is now suddenly back in his life, which puts a strain on his relationship with his present love, Silvia. Ismael’s brother Ivan, who serves as an inspiration for the current film Ismael is making, doesn’t want anything to do with him, but instead of explaining why, we get snippet’s of Ivan’s life (or are they the bits of the film Ismael is making???), that is a self contained story within a story. It doesn’t have an ending though. And then there is Carlotta’s father,the famous Jewish director Henri Bloom, who is traumatized by his daughter’s disappearance, but when she storms back into his life he cannot accept her. The nature of their past relationship is never explained. Sound confusing? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
The stories switch chaotically between the characters and timelines, creating a dreamlike atmosphere, with no beginning and no conclusion to any of the story arks. Director Arnaud Desplechin has created a very anti-hollywood film, with a structure and character development that is completely different to what a modern cinema goer is used to. He requires your full attention, making you believe every detail matters and he leads you to some revelations, only for you to discover that there was nothing there to find.
Desplechin created two different versions of the film, one 30 minutes longer which was shown during the French Film Festival in Australia. Most critiques are united in the belief that the longer version is more complete and has more to discover. Unfortunately I have to disappoint. ISMAEL’s GHOSTS is a perfect example where artistic creativity should have been locked in a cage. Where are all those heartless Hollywood producers when you need them?
The director is trying to squeeze too much into the movie’s lengthy run. A love triangle, a spy story, a film within a film, the creativity crisis, the relationship between parents and children, between producer and director, between the creator and his muse. It’s a comedy (mostly unintentional), it is a thriller (one scene, which has a man’s face blown off with an explosive hidden in a mobile phone, came straight from THE FINAL DESTINATION franchise), and it is a love story, the most illogical and inconclusive I’ve seen.
ISMAEL’s GHOSTS is a very original film (to say the least ) but it suffers from the greatest sin any piece of art could bear – it is boring!