This latest movie from French auteur Arnaud Desplechin is an indulgent convoluted jumble of an excessive number of conflicting storylines that at times would test the patience of a saint. It’s art for art’s sake with scant regard for the viewer trying to unravel it and get some semblance of understanding or enjoyment.
Ismael (Mathieu Amalric) is a self-absorbed womanizing filmmaker who is sleep-deprived by his incessant nightmares and is still haunted by his wife Carlotta (Marion Cotillard) who walked out on him 20 years ago disappearing off the face of the earth. Now she suddenly appears out of the blue with little in the way of explanation which she feels no real need to provide, but heavy on mystical drama and determined to re-assert her way back into his life.
This is regardless of the fact that Ismael is now involved with Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) an astrophysicist described as having ‘her head in the stars’.
There is also Carlotta’s elderly father Henri (László Szabó) a short-tempered veteran filmmaker who acts as a mentor to Ismael, whilst at the same time using him as a crutch when his own insecurities flare up again. Why the reappeared Carlotta is so reluctant to visit with him, is one of the many pieces of this puzzle that Desplechin has no intention of sharing with us.
Whilst this drama is unfolding there are also scenes of the latest spy drama movie that Ismael is trying to film. In the beginning, it takes some time to realize that this is a film within a film, and there is an insinuation that the overlap is created by the fact that protagonist in Ishmael’s movie is also his younger brother in real life (played by Louis Garrel)
How much of this is real or imagined by Ismael is also questionable as he is a pill-popping alcoholic who is convinced that he is dying, and to stop being forced to finish the movie, shoots his Producer.
There are so many inconsistencies or red-herrings in the story that actually divert your attention from some of the more relevant plot lines on the screen. As in the way that Ismael brandishes a photo of his son, but never offers a hint of an explanation of who he is. Sylvia, on the other hand, professes to have spent all her dating life just with married men, yet the moment Carlotta reappears, she is off without a fight.
The best redeeming part of Desplechin’s film which incidentally was chosen to open the last Cannes Film Festival is the wonderfully nuanced performance by Gainsbourg which is a sheer joy to observe.