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CANNES 2024 Critics’ Week

Review: Ghost Trail


- CANNES 2024: Jonathan Millet creates a spellbinding first feature about revenge, trauma and exile through the obsessive pursuit of a Syrian war criminal hiding in Europe

Review: Ghost Trail
Adam Bessa in Ghost Trail

"Where I come from, we're suspicious of people who ask questions and also of men who have several first names”, “you never know who's on which side." Welcome to a world of paranoia, lies, pretense, nightmarish memories, shadowing and secret exchanges in Ghost Trail [+see also:
interview: Jonathan Millet
interview: Pauline Seigland
film profile
, Jonathan Millet's highly accomplished first feature, unveiled as the opening film of the Critics’ Week at the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

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“I was blindfolded, but I know him like no other.” At the heart of the conflict that has been ravaging Syria since 2011, lurking in the shadows of Saidnaya prison, a torturer called Harfaz earned himself a sinister reputation before disappearing into thin air, no doubt taking refuge in Europe under a false identity, hidden among his many compatriots who have gone into exile. Hamid (the excellent Adam Bessa), a former literature teacher in Aleppo whose revolutionary hopes have cost him dearly, is looking for this executioner, who was also his own, in France. He belongs to a clandestine network that tracks down war criminals on the Continent. But the clues leading to him are few and far between: a blurred photograph, poignant audio testimonies from Harfaz's victims, and Hamid's own haunting memories of months of torture.

A voice, a smell, a presence, a style - all violently intangible elements that sometimes lead Hamid, with a burning desire for revenge and painful emotions overwhelming him, to intuitions that can prove misleading (“I feel that I see him everywhere”) and put the whole network in danger. And it just so happens that he has picked up the trail of a man (the charismatic Tawfeek Barhom), enrolled in a Masters in Chemistry at Strasbourg University under the name of Sami Hanna, who could be (although nothing is certain) the target. Some close surveillance begins, putting Hamid's nerves to the test...

From this fascinating topic, woven into a genre-film framework (furtive meetings between members of the network in the real world or in a video game, processing of information, false identities, repeated shadowing, the sword of Damocles of a face-to-face meeting with one's executioner, etc), Jonathan Millet extracts a highly original film in its existentialist dimension, about the extreme difficulty of chasing away the ghosts of a crushing past (“we all have our dead, don't we?”), surviving the hardest traumas, avoiding sinking into self-destructive obsession, mourning and being able to love again. All of this is set against a backdrop of ethical questions about how to exact revenge and the general anguish of living in exile (“we have a country, we have left our friends there to mourn”). We witness a wide range of themes (a screenplay written by the director and Florence Rochat) that the film cleverly disguises in a blend of romance and documentary, heady methodical action and suggestive psychology, for a spellbinding result that holds great promise for the rest of the filmmaker's career.

Ghost Trail was produced by Films Grand Huit and co-produced by Arte France Cinéma, Germany company NiKo Film and Belgian company Hélicotronc. International sales are handled by mk2 Films.

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(Translated from French by Margaux Comte)

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