The married Bongwan leaves home in the dark morning and sets off to work. The memories of the woman who left weigh down on him. That day Bongwan's wife finds a love note, bursts into the office, and mistakes Areum for the woman who left.
In her early thirties, broke, and in the wake of a humbling breakup, a spirited, yet rudderless young woman finds herself struggling to get by in the bustling Parisian metropolis; however, if she can make it there, she'll make it anywhere.
Twenty-one years ago, she ran away. And twenty-one years later, Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) is back from the void. But Ismael (Mathieu Amalric) has been busy rebuilding a life for himself with Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and working on his next feature film. As Ismael's trials and tribulations unfurl, so too do those of his film's protagonist: the idle, funny and reckless diplomat Ivan Dédalus (Louis Garrel). The character is a nod to the ghost of another of Desplechin's creations, the brother of Paul Dédalus, three-time hero of "My Sex Life - or How I Got Into an Argument," "A Christmas Tale" and "My Golden Days." A film within a film - and then some, Desplechin layers narrative upon narrative. With ISMAEL'S GHOSTS, Desplechin returns once more to the past, creating film after film as his way of stepping back in time, and proving yet again that his brand of genius lies in his ability to find light in the darkest of places.Written by
The basis for a good film is always a good screenplay. Because the screenplay of 'Les fantômes d'Ismaël' is a mess, the film is a failure. What is undoubtedly meant as an intelligent multi-layered story highlighting the many aspects in the life of a film maker, is in reality an incomprehensible hodgepodge of subplots going nowhere.
Right from the very beginning, the viewer is confused. The first few scenes are not scenes from the film we're watching, but from a film within the film, which is being shot by lead character Ismaël. The main plot item, however, is the return of his wife, who has been missing for 20 years and was presumed dead. This in itself can be fine material for a well-acted drama, exploring the way the husband, his girlfriend and his long lost wife cope with this new situation. With multiple award winning actresses like Charlotte Gainsbourg and Marion Cotillard on hand, this would seem to be the most logical option.
Instead, the viewer is offered a myriad of increasingly complicated side-stories, flash backs and dream-like sequences, culminating in a laughable scene of the tormented film maker shooting his own executive producer by accident. I have no doubt this film tries to make a point, but I'm afraid only the director knows which one. Unless you're a fan of French pseudo-intellectual art-house dramas, this film is to be avoided.
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