It is like Day for Night mixed with a little le Carré, but it is all very Arnaud Desplechin. Ismaël Vuillard (the protag of Desplechin’s Kings & Queen, again portrayed by Mathieu Amalric) is supposed to make a movie about notorious diplomat and possible spy Ivan Dedalus, who certainly sounds related to Paul Dedalus, a recurring character in three other Desplechin films, also played by Amalric. Everything is related and possibly everyone is Desplechin in Ismaël’s Ghosts (trailer here), which screens as a Main Slate selection of the 55th New York Film Festival.
This is not the version of Ghosts that garnered Cannes jeers. Instead, we get a “director’s cut” that is twenty-minutes longer. Frankly, the long version is still pretty confused, but it must be even harder to follow with pieces carved out. Vulliard is supposed to be telling the story of Ivan Dedalus, a notorious diplomat and spy from a working-class background, who ironically was often attached to missions precisely because he was suspected of dealing with the Russians.
However, Vulliard’s personal drama keeps getting in the way. Depending on what point Desplechin flashes back to, the surrogate character is either romancing Sylvia, the shy astrophysicist, preparing his mentor-father-in-law Henri Bloom for a retrospective tribute in Israel, or dealing poorly with the sudden reappearance of his long presumed dead wife Carlotta Bloom. Eventually, the stress gets to be too much for Vulliard, forcing his long-suffering friend and line producer Zwy to track him down.
Even if Desplechin added an additional hour, Ghosts would probably still be a jumbled, herky-jerky affair. The constant flashing forwards and backwards can leave your head spinning, but the whole point is how everything is supposed to be mixed up in Vulliard’s head, so you just have to roll with it.
In fact, there is a lot of good stuff in here. Louis Garrel is almost unrecognizable as the intriguing Ivan Dedalus, so much so, we wouldn’t mind seeing Desplechin return to his character. Amalric and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Sylvia also have some appealingly fresh and mature chemistry together. Hippolyte Girardot also shows a flair for physical comedy as the poor, put-upon Zwy. Surprisingly, it is Marion Cotillard’s sequences as Carlotta Bloom (dig the Vertigo reference) that mostly muddy up the film.