Monday, March 09, 2020

Rendez-Vous ‘20: Burning Ghost

Love is the most persistent ghost, because it can haunt you forever. A twentysomething man and a thirtysomething woman will prove just how true that is. Technically, he died about ten years ago, but they still have powerful romantic chemistry in Stephane Batut’s Burning Ghost, which screens during the 2020 Rendez-Vous with French Cinema.

Juste died through some sort of misadventure, but Kramarz, the gatekeeper to whatever comes next, allows him to stay in the realm of mortals, to guide recently deceased souls to her. He lives with a foot in both planes of existence. He can interact with mortals, as long as he never gets too involved. However, caution goes out the window when he crosses paths with Agathe.

She knew him when he used a different name, but he still looks exactly the same. Juste initially tries to deny it, but their passion for each other has also remained unchanged. Soon, he tries to pick up where they left-off, but that will somehow upset the cosmic balance of his supernatural existence.

Burrning Ghost could be the best ghost movie since Personal Shopper. Fans of Assayas’s foray into the supernatural should also appreciate the elegant tone Batut achieves, even though his film is not the slightest bit horror, while also being far less ambiguous. Instead, it is an exquisitely melancholy meditation on love and death, the two most fundamental themes art can address.

Thimotee Robart is weirdly stiff and aloof throughout the film, but perhaps death does that to you. On the other hand, Judith Chemla expresses the pain Agathe still carries, vividly and acutely. We definitely believe there are deeply felt, unresolved feelings stirred up by their reunion. Robart is on-screen nearly every second, but he gets critical support from Djolof Mbengue, who ironically helps humanize the film as Alpha, another ghost, who has fallen off Kramarz’s grid and now lives with a human wife.

Again, there is no horror here, except the possibility of not being with the love of your life, which really ought to be terrifying. That is why anyone who enjoys supernatural cinema should find the approach of Batut and co-screenwriters Christine Dory and Frederic Videau so richly rewarding. Granted, it starts somewhat slowly, but it goes deep and pays off emotionally in a big way. Very highly recommended, Burning Ghost screens tomorrow (3/10) and Friday (3/13), as part of this year’s French Rendez-Vous.