Art and Experience: Opening the 70th edition of the Cannes Film Festival, and presented out of competition, French auteur’s Arnaud Desplechin “Ismael’s Ghosts” is a Pandora’s box of a film which stars two of the best French actresses around: Marion Cotillard and Charlotte Gainsbourg. It’s the director’s most ambitious film to date, a loosely-inspired remake of Jean Renoir‘s “Providence” as directed by Bergman and Hitchcock. Mathieu Amalric stars as, let’s all admit it, Desplechin’s doppelganger, a film director shooting his latest picture and living a happy, solemn life with wife Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Enter Carlotta (Marion Cotillard), his, supposedly, deceased ex-wife, who suddenly reappears at their beach-front home after going missing more than 20 years ago.
Cannes opens with an overtly-stylized film that pays tribute to some of the legends of the medium and Desplechin couldn’t be happier to walk up the stairs of the Lumiere theater with his two bombshell stars by his side. I spoke to the venerable writer-director of such great films as “A Christmas Tale,” Kings and Queens,” and “My Golden Days” about his influences, Cannes and whether Ismael really is his alter ego.
Did you choose for the film to be out of competition?
I consider Thierry Fremaux and [former president of Cannes] Giles Jacob as my friends. It’s an idea that came from Thierry, an idea that really moved me because it’s 70th anniversary of the festival. It’s a lot of pressure because usually very light films are chosen, but this is an auteur movie so I found that to be a very beautiful gesture. It was also quite agreeable to not be part of the competition. I saw it as an honor and it was very emotional for me.
Usually, as of late, it’s a Woody Allen movie that opens the fest and there is that Woody-esque neurosis in the film.
I love his films.
I know it’s been a tradition for you to show a classic, theme-related movie to your cast and crew before the shoot. Did you show anything this time around?
I didn’t actually. Marion [Cotillard] and Charlotte [Gainsbourg] were so busy with other movies that they couldn’t meet until the initial day of shooting. Charlotte was in New York, Marion actually, she was shooting that gigantic Robert Zemeckis movie that just never seems to finish, which has just consumed her. However, I do know what I would have shown: Alain Resnais‘ “Providence.”
The 1977 film!
Yes! For the fury going on in the head of John Gielgud and the torture of the wife dying of cancer. He’s stuck in this house just like Ismael. He dreams of chapters from a novel and with those chapters he tries to find meaning in his life again. It’s a visually splendid work of art. That movie just enveloped me when I came to Paris at the tender age of 17. It became this monster that just consumed my life.
Actually, that’s a great movie to have as an influence on ‘Ismael.’ That constant clash between reality and fiction …
Yeah, exactly. Somebody like Ismael who totally just loses it later in the film. He locks himself up and just builds everything in the basement with thread and needle, which quite clearly is a metaphor for the mindset he has going on.
Yeah, he makes a real mess out of that basement. The string is all over the place.
Just like him. He can’t connect the dots anymore.
You mentioned Renoir, but I was so thinking of Bergman as well with this latest movie.
Yes, especially “Persona,” and “Shame,” really, any of the films he’s shot during that time period in Faro. Before we started on this movie I thought to myself I have Ismael and I have these women with him, it would really be too obvious, so I quickly hopped off any Bergman that was looming in my head and went straight into Alfred Hitchcock‘s arms. Hitchcock was protecting me from Bergman and Bergman was protecting me from Hitchcock.
That’s good protection
Sure is. I actually stole a few shots from “Persona.”
I noticed that. The hospital scene?
You’re good. The other one?
Can’t think of it at the moment, probably missed it.
It was very subtle nod to the two faces merging. You could blink and miss it.