Ismael's Ghost

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Director (and co-writer here) Arnaud Desplechin has made three films featuring Paul Dédalus. In those films, Paul has a diplomat brother named Ivan. Ismael’s Ghosts opens with a scene from a film-in-progress about Ivan Dédalus made by one Ismaël Vuillard, played with wild-eyed abandon by Mathieu Amalric, the same actor who usually plays Paul. Only here, Ivan Dédalus is a dramatized version of Vuillard’s actual diplomat brother Ivan. At one point, he calls it “An homage to myself if I had been my brother.” But the film, this film, isn’t really about Ismaël’s attempt to make that film, or even about his relationship with his brother. It’s about — as the title suggests — his ghosts, the things and people that haunt him. Many of the latter are still alive: his lover Sylvia the astrophysicist (Charlotte Gainsbourg), his father-in-law Henri the great filmmaker, his friend Zwy the frustrated line producer, and yes, his brother Ivan. And in a special and completely upsetting surprise, Carlotta, the wife who disappeared 20 years ago (played with magnificent mystery and magnetism by Marion Cotillard). There’s also the matter of his nightmares, the invention of perspective in painting, the actress he’s sleeping with, and maybe a few other shades that escape me at the moment. People tend to speak in pronouncements: “I never stopped not being enough,” “I’ll tear off your mask until I make of you a prince,” that sort of thing. It’s all very artfully done, with plenty of inventive camera work by Irina Lubtchansky. But I found it unsatisfying, even as a slice of life; it seemed more of a julienne. (2017) — Matthew Lickona

Rated R | 2 hours, 15 minutes
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