Twenty-one years after walking away from her marriage, Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) returns like a phantom. Ismael (Mathieu Amalric), meanwhile, has built a life for himself with Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and is working on the script for 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).
With its allusions to classic films by Alfred Hitchcock and Brian De Palma, Ismael’s Ghosts is writer/director Arnaud Desplechin at his most shambolic, charming, and geekishly cinephilic. The pleasure of watching Desplechin’s films comes from spending time in his spiraling imagination, with its brutal curiosity for the characters he has set into motion. Watching a troupe of the very best contemporary French actors at work is awfully fun too. Cotillard, Gainsbourg, Amalric, and Garrel are also joined by Alba Rohrwacher, László Szabó, Jacques Nolot, and Hippolyte Girardot.
“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.” — A New York Times Critic’s Pick