Ismael's Ghosts

A famous film director (Mathieu Amalric) struggles to complete a movie about his older brother’s legendary exploits in the French foreign service; meanwhile the filmmaker’s long-lost wife (Marion Cotillard) materializes after more than 20 years, to the consternation of his current partner (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Writer-director Arnaud Desplechin pays homage to Hitchcock’s Vertigo by naming the wife after Carlotta Valdes, the mysterious historical figure in the earlier movie, and similarly immortalizing her on canvas; there’s also a film within the film that details the brother’s adventures while the hero is agonizing over his screenplay. Unfortunately all the metafictional layering only highlights the lack of engagement at the center of the story, the three stars acting up a storm but barely acknowledging each other. Desplechin’s best films (Kings and Queen, A Christmas Tale) weave intimate stories into epic narratives, but the artifice here feels self-indulgent. In French with subtitles.