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"Characters must reinvent themselves"

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Arnaud Desplechin • Director

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- CANNES 2017: French director Arnaud Desplechin talks about Ismael’s Ghosts, which was screened out of competition at the opening of the 70th Cannes Film Festival

Arnaud Desplechin • Director
(© Mathilde Petit / FDC)

Surrounded by his cast, including Marion Cotillard, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alba Rohrwacher, Mathieu Amalric, Louis Garrel and Hippolyte Girardot, French director Arnaud Desplechin broke down for the international press his virtuoso Ismael's Ghosts [+see also:
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Q&A: Arnaud Desplechin
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]
, which was screened out of competition at the opening of the 70th Cannes Film Festival.

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Ismael’s Ghosts has three stars in the leading roles. To what extent was this premeditated?
Arnaud Desplechin: I never thought about making a film with big names. When I wrote the script, I didn’t know who would be this man and these two women. But as I delved into the male character, it increasingly resembled Ismael from Kings and Queen [+see also:
trailer
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]
, so I reached out to Mathieu Amalric, hoping that we would be able to reinvent ourselves. For Marion Cotillard, I had a striking memory of La Vie en Rose [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
with her fascinating ability as an artist to reinvent herself, a little bit like the character of Carlotta in Ismael’s Ghosts. I also loved Marion in Inception and in the Dardenne films, for example. And in terms of Charlotte Gainsbourg – as the character of Silvia is fire smouldering under the embers, it needed some fire and I think that Charlotte is the best actor to portray a scandal.

Your films seem to toy with a sort of continuity, for example, the recurring characters of Ismael and Dédalus?
I react quite often to my previous film. My Golden Days [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
was about a first love, a first chance. It included a theme from American cinema that I love – the second chance – where the characters must reinvent themselves. My Golden Days was very melancholy, but this time, I took pleasure in filming more mature characters that embrace life.

What is the main subject, the message of the film?
The entire film is summarised by the third-last dialogue of the character played by Charlotte: “My life came to me”. The imperfect, unexpected, sometimes brutal life like Marion’s character, in disarray like the one portrayed by Mathieu, or like a young man who comes out of his shell and blossoms by travelling across the world like the character played by Louis Garrel. But I also think that the last dialogue of the film: “more, more, more” says it all – more life, more stories, more sex, more love, more disorder.

And the ghosts in the title?
What surprises me is that the character of Carlotta is alive. The others see her as a ghost. It’s like after narrowly avoiding an accident – you laugh and you cry. And though Carlotta is a bit of devil when she meets Ismael and Silvia, she becomes a saint when she goes back to her father: A woman can have two faces.

And Marion Cotillard’s dance on It Ain't Me Babe by Bob Dylan?
The lyrics of the song are clear: “You say you're lookin' for someone, Who's never weak but always strong, To protect you an' defend you, Whether you are right or wrong, Someone to open each and every door, But it ain't me, babe.” It is a duel between the two women and Carlotta, while dancing, sends Silvia a message: Ismael is not going to be the one to protect you from life, Ismael is mine. I wanted a wild dance and I wasn’t sure if it would “fly”, but Marion did what was needed by inventing 95% of the choreography.

How do you feel, seeing the film screened at the opening of the Cannes Film Festival?
I’m very happy and it’s an honour. In general, I dread the reaction of critics. This time around, of course, I hoped that they would like the film but I feel the opening is a less dangerous position than the competition, where the press, especially the French press, is sometimes divided and can be quite brutal.

There will be two versions of the film, the second slightly longer than the one that was screened today at Cannes?
That’s right. This idea goes way back to when my producer Pascal Caucheteux came to see us while I was editing with Laurence Briaud and said to me: “Are you sure that you don’t have two films?” So, I made one version that is restricted to the love triangle, more sentimental and with passionate emotions, which was projected here at Cannes, and another version which is more cerebral.

(Translated from French)

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