At the climax of The Muppets Take Manhattan, that redoubtable producer Kermit the Frog realizes at last what his Broadway show has been missing right up to the night of its premiere. It just needs "more frogs and dogs and bears and chickens and whatever!" A similar fervor seems to have gripped Arnaud Desplechin, though with his swollen director's cut of Ismael's Ghosts, it proves notably less fruitful. Here's more mistresses and flashbacks and film-within-the-film espionage inanity! Between its unveiling at Cannes in 2017 and its official release on American screens this week, Ismael's Ghosts has taken on an extra 20 minutes, which will certainly hit the spot for viewers disappointed that the original version found the hero, a French film director unable to complete his own out-of-control film, only taking two lovers.
If the original cut was a couple of Desplechin distinct movies loaded into a woodchipper and then splatted all out on the screen, this new, longer Ismael's Ghosts at least can be said to beef up the splats. And some of those splats, it must be said, prove entrancing. One gob of story finds Ismael Vuillard (Mathieu Amalric), a director suddenly confronted with the wife of his who had gone missing 20 years before. She's played by Marion Cotillard and turns up at Vuillard's beach house, first chatting with Vuillard's current girlfriend Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg) by the sea. The tangle of jealousies and seductions that follows never approaches plausibility, but everyone trembles and smolders capably.
But there's no way around it: The whole, here, is a mess. Even with the extra minutes, the film seems unfinished, the connections between its disparate scenarios vague and arbitrary.