A widowed film director is in the middle of making a film about an atypical diplomat inspired by his brother. While he has started a new life with Sylvia, he still mourns the death of a former lover, Carlotta, who passed away 20 years earlier; then Carlotta returns from the dead, causing Sylvia to run away.

Director: Arnaud Desplechin
Writers: Arnaud Desplechin, Léa Mysius
Stars: Mathieu Amalric, Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg

Subtitled in English


It is a sad tale of a man whose entire life is uncontrollably a lie. With his wife having gone missing some 10 years earlier and his brother dead, Ismael (Mathieu Amalric) is alone with only his writing and filming to comfort him. Taping his heartbreak and despair, he uses film to pour life back into his lost loved ones through a mysterious spy agent Ivan Dedalus (Louis Garrel) and his wife Arielle (Alba Rohrwacher). Through film and a newfound love, Ismael finds hope and light – only to have it suddenly extinguished in an instant.

One bright and sunny day, with his lover Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) sunbathing and Ismael’s latest script flowing freely with inspiration, his long lost wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) returns with vague and unnerving details of her disappearance and the years that have passed since. In an instant, Ismael’s reality shatters – and may bring his life and sanity with it.

The story of Ismael’s Ghosts was bewitching, a puzzle of stories and characters that each unlocked the true reality of Ismael’s world and life. As soon as his wife Carlotta returns, everything from this point on is confusing and called into question. The story by Arnaud Desplechin, Léa Mysius and Julie Peyr is brilliant, evenly paced and a clever tale to show a character’s descent into madness.

The psychology of this film is further inlaid by utilizing Ismael as a filmmaker. Watching a man use his films to interpret and work through the vast emotions of his life and the emotions caused by other’s uncontrollable situations – yet when he is forced to face the fiction of his his life and reality everything falls apart. He is a man lost in falsehoods, fear and paranoia. It was a brilliant ploy by the writers to give his character and turmoil further depth.

Mathieu Amalric brings to life the mentally unstable, heartbroken character of Ismael, whose healed life slowly breaks away one piece at a time. He handles each pieces intricately, absorbing its effects perfectly into his character. Playing Sylvia, Charlotte Gainsbourg encapsulates the almost fool-hearted and true inspiration to Ismael’s life. She has a delicate touch that brings the cool and calm exterior to her character, while also allowing the audience to see the girl screaming within. Both deliver performances that play off each other both magnetically positive and negative.

Marion Cotlliard was the performance I found the most resounding in this film (and I am personally dubbing her the most beautiful woman in the world). While I had seen her in many films before (primarily in The Dark Knight Rises), this was my favorite to date. She was given an array of emotions, motives and desires to accompany her portrayal of Carlotta. She brings an innocence, a horror and a broken heart to her character in a variety of forms at different points of the film that force her to utilize her range. Cotlliard transcends language, her performance clearly interpreted by anyone watching.

Desplechin carefully paced out his scenes, camera angles and length of shots to further instill this psychological madness. Each piece of the puzzle he plays out on screen is perfectly timed, lit and showcased. His culmination of strong cast rounded what he needed to knock this out of the park.

– Stephanie Archer, Film Inquiry