Ismaël is a film director whose life seems in crisis. His wife left over 20 years before and is presumed dead, her somewhat unbalanced father, Henri, blaming Ismaël for the loss of his daughter.
A film is in production featuring Ivan, which is also the name of Ismaël's long parted brother. I confused the film Ivan and real Ivan - not a good start, but not that surprising.
Ismaël's descent into despair is halted when he enters into a relationship with the self-declared 'prudish' Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsborough), an astrophysicist none the less. And normality seems to return to his life. But then his wife, Carlotta (Marion Cotillard), returns, first encountering Sylvia on the beach near Ismaël's cottage. Carlotta wants her husband back, notwithstanding that nobody has heard from her for 21 years and that she had married somebody else in India.
From this point things got too complicated for me. Sylvia is driven away by Carlotta. Ismaël again descends into despair occupying an aunt's house where he seems to be literally losing it. And where he ultimately shoots and injures his producer who is desperately trying to convince him to return to the film set.
There's some good acting, as one would expect from Gainsborough and Cotillard, but it was too much hard work trying to comprehend this film. The following quote is perhaps a bit harsh but certainly sums up the feelings of many who have reviewed the film, although I wouldn't go that far.
From the review in the Irish Times:
"Decked out in the classy colours of the high-end French art film, Ismael’s Ghosts is probably easier to enjoy if you make no attempt to fit its disjointed units together. Indeed, those who don’t speak French may prefer to ignore the subtitles and wallow in the pretty pictures and elegant production values. The more you try to make sense of it the more intense your headache will become."