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Hippolyte Girardot (#110 of 3)

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

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Cannes Film Review: Ismael’s Ghosts

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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.

Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011: Top Floor, Left Wing

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Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011: <em>Top Floor, Left Wing</em>
Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2011: <em>Top Floor, Left Wing</em>

There’s nothing inherently wrong with the fact that Top Floor, Left Wing makes light of a hostage situation involving Muslim terrorists. What’s wrong with writer-director Angelo Cianci’s half-leaden, half-hysterical (and not in a funny way) farce is the way he takes the wrong things seriously and pokes fun of nothing worth laughing at. Unlike Four Lions, Chris Morris’s empathetic and genuinely funny comedy about suicide bombers, Top Floor, Left Wing pivots around the serious notion that there’s such a thing as defensible or simply respectable terrorist actions while laughing at the concept that the terrorist you don’t know is often more dangerous than the one you do. It’s a loud, incoherent, and completely unenlightening film about the way we live now, almost a full decade after 9/11.

On the Circuit: Flight of the Red Balloon

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On the Circuit: <em>Flight of the Red Balloon</em>
On the Circuit: <em>Flight of the Red Balloon</em>

It’s exciting as well as a little nerve-wracking that Hou Hsiao-hsien’s latest feature offers many firsts in his seventeen-year career: his first made outside of Asia; his first starring a major international actress (sorry Shu Qi, but you’re not in the same league as Juliette Binoche); and, perhaps most significantly for a director not known for trading in symbolism, the first featuring a performance by a metaphorical object.

From its first appearance, Hou’s red balloon is established not as the charming anthropomorphic babysitter in Albert Lamorisse’s original short, but as an effulgent object hovering at a perpetually tantalizing distance. In paying homage to the original, Hou makes a major change that makes the film his own, limiting the once-central object to intermittent appearances that keep its narrative and metaphorical significance ambiguous to the brink of frustration. But the marginalization of the balloon conveys the film’s essential structure, in which people are in a perpetual state of movement, convening and dispersing with no overt motivation other than to live as best as they can manage. Likewise, the film itself is a red balloon, held at arm’s length, but in plain sight, inviting engagement.