By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, April 20, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Lark Theater in Larkspur.
When I reviewed Arnaud Desplechin’s lovely My Golden Days in April 2016, I made the somewhat embarrassing admission that it was my first experience with the celebrated French director of Kings and Queen and A Christmas Tale. Now here we are in April 2018, with his follow-up film Ismael’s Ghosts ready for a Bay Area release, and I am even more embarrassed to admit that it is only my second Desplechin film. I watched four David Ayer films over that two-year span, so basically I’m the worst.
Once again, I am grasping in a darkened room at auteur tendencies, but the two Desplechin films that I have seen both share a love of ecstatic music cues and rapturous camera moves as well as a snaking and stuttering structure, and both movies star a typically agitated Mathieu Amalric as a man haunted by his past. Amalric plays the titular Ismael, a filmmaker newly married to Charlotte Gainsbourg’s loving Sylvia; the main ghost is Marion Cotillard’s Carlotta (Vertigo, duh), the missing ex-wife that Ismael assumed dead for the last two decades.
Enchanting moments are scattered throughout (a sequence where Cotillard dances to Bob Dylan seems like it was solely created to appear in the opening of David Ehrlich’s 25 Best Movies of 2018 video), but Ismael’s Ghosts feels chaotic and uneven where My Golden Days was dreamlike and magical.