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Arnaud Desplechin (#110 of 5)

Cannes Film Festival 2017 Arnaud Desplechin’s Ismael’s Ghosts

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Cannes Film Review: Ismael’s Ghosts

Le Pacte

Cannes Film Review: Ismael’s Ghosts

The opening-night film of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Ismael’s Ghosts gives us a more unhinged Arnaud Desplechin than we’ve had in a while. As in later Alain Resnais or Raúl Ruiz films, it simultaneously collapses and expands a director’s body of work, like an uncontainable popup book. It borrows character names and identifiers liberally from Desplechin’s filmography, but plays fast and loose with the inter-film narrative continuity. It’s worlds away from 2013’s formally and dramatically disciplined Jimmy P., and it builds on 2015’s My Golden Days, which positioned itself as a prequel to 1996’s great My Sex Life… or How I Got Into an Argument.

It’s Clarity: A Christmas Tale

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It’s Clarity: A Christmas Tale
It’s Clarity: A Christmas Tale

Early critical response to A Christmas Tale repeatedly insisted that here’s the proverbial Desplechin film for people who don’t like Desplechin, in the same way that Kent Jones claimed Regular Lovers was “a Garrel film for people who don’t know or don’t like other Garrel films.” Except Jones didn’t mean it as harshly as it sounded (he wrote the liner notes for the DVD, after all), and saying Desplechin’s film is more accessible than his past work should in no way imply compromise. A Christmas Tale doesn’t synthesize everything Desplechin’s been working on since 1991’s La Vie Des Morts—how could any one film capture the scope of Desplechin’s relentlessly schizophrenic interests?—but it’s the most coherent alchemy of Morts, My Sex Life and Kings And Queen we’re ever likely to get. It’s not dilution; it’s clarity.

Baggy Like a House, and Running Away: Playing Catch-Up with Arnaud Desplechin’s My Sex Life… and Kings and Queen

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Baggy Like a House, and Running Away: Playing Catch-Up with Arnaud Desplechin’s My Sex Life… and Kings and Queen
Baggy Like a House, and Running Away: Playing Catch-Up with Arnaud Desplechin’s My Sex Life… and Kings and Queen

I am not alone, I am certain, in coming late to the Arnaud Desplechin party poised to jump off this winter. His latest film, A Christmas Tale, already garnered plenty of accolades from those lucky enough to see it at Cannes and/or the New York Film Festival (two takes I dig: GK’s gushing and MK’s lucidity). It played in San Francisco last month, too, at the Clay, as centerpiece of the San Francisco Film Society’s inaugural French Cinema Now program (dig MG’s interview, too). I missed it, on purpose—I was watching Jia Zhang-Ke’s The World across the Bay—because I knew it would be released soon, and would probably be a big deal. Looks like the case; the snowball is gathering speed and size. This election week saw not just something righteous for our country but also, on a decidedly smaller scale (like, minuscule, dude), the start of IFC Center’s current Desplechin retrospective, Every Minute, Four Ideas, as a build-up to next Friday’s New York release of A Christmas Tale. Lucky for me, I got to see two of the other Desplechin films shown at the Clay: his rare debut, the deliciously abrupt La vie des morts (more Maya), and his calling card, perhaps, My Sex Life… or how I got into an argument. Since then I’ve revisited My Sex Life, on Fox Lorber’s abominable DVD release, as well as his 2004 freight-train Kings and Queen. Smart cinephiles that they are over there, the IFC Center has programmed both of these for this weekend, including the possibility of one rich, long, seductive, dark-all-day double bill on Sunday.

Cannes Film Festival 2008: Tokyo!, Waltz with Bashir, Leonera, Three Monkeys, & A Christmas Tale

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Cannes Film Festival 2008: <em>Tokyo!</em>, <em>Waltz with Bashir</em>, <em>Leonera</em>, <em>Three Monkeys</em>, & <em>A Christmas Tale</em>
Cannes Film Festival 2008: <em>Tokyo!</em>, <em>Waltz with Bashir</em>, <em>Leonera</em>, <em>Three Monkeys</em>, & <em>A Christmas Tale</em>

After the disappointment of Blindness on day one, I enter day two ready to make the most of my time here in Cannes. I wake up early and work out a plan that will result in me seeing four movies during the day: the Un Certain Regard film Tokyo!, the competition entries Waltz with Bashir and Leonera, and a beach-side screening of Arthur Penn’s seminal 1967 film Bonnie & Clyde. I debate over whether to count Penn’s film in my tally and eventually decide that I will, because four films in one day sounds way more hardcore than three.

Once again, the day starts in a line. This time it’s me, alone, waiting to get into Tokyo!. I’m alone because as soon as my roommate and I walked up to the Debussy Theatre, where the Un Certain Regard premieres are held, an exiting patron handed him a ticket to the screening. Lucky bastard. If I don’t get in, I’m gonna be pissed.