“The Ghosts” (“Les Fantomes”)
A Look Within
For me, the greatest perk to reviewing is the opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. In 2011, I reviewed a little German film, “Alex and Leo” that was written by Andre Schneider who also played the part of Alex. I found the film to be beguiling (I also used that word in my review some seven years ago) even though the film was far from perfect. I hurt from Schneider after I posted my review and thus began an online friendship that I count as one of the important friendships in my life. We have never met but I follow his work and I see the changes that Schneider makes along his way to be a top film director (not like Spielberg or Fassbinder) of films that reflect our community. I am always flattered when he asks my opinion about something he has done and this takes us to “The Ghosts”.
“The Ghosts” is a small movie and as such it reflects what we hold in our minds. Nicolas (André Schneider) is a very successful novelist who has moved into the Paris apartment where his late grandmother once lived. He soon finds that the apartment foster anxiety and apparitions. Nicolas is a loner and actually only has one friend, Madge (Judith Magre), an elderly woman who has the ability to soothe him with words. Natalie knows just what to say and is well aware that she is talking to a man in the arts and she is well aware of the temperament of artists so she stays away from saying anything that can bring about disillusionment.
Natalie understands that Nicolas is gay and she tells him (after his having sex with an escort) that he must find a wife because companionship is so much more important than the instant gratification that comes with sex. Natalie is an advocate of respectability and while she is quite narrow in how she sees it, it fits perfectly into Nicolas’s new living arrangement that reflects his grandmother’s and not his own life.
Then there is the strange young man who shows himself at the apartment and Nicolas realizes that there are times when he sees him and there are times he cannot. He sometimes sees this man in his nightmares. This reaches the point of upsetting Nicolas to the point that he calls the police but this only lands him in an even stranger situation.
We learn that Nicolas is Austrian thus making him “a target for the wrath and contempt of the racist police officers, just as he’s a handy whipping boy for the rages of a continually dissatisfied neighbor.” Now the question arises—is Nicolas truly being haunted and if he is who is doing the haunting and why.
The mood of the film is established quickly with the opening of the drama, we see a metronome clicking and watch Nicolas as he sets out his tea service in the way it has been done for many years. We immediately are aware that something is missing in Nicolas and that his isolation is affects whatever he does. It also appears that he suffers with some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
We see a very strange and tense meeting of Nicolas and a hustler (rent boy) named Guillaume (Pierre Emö). We are to believe that Guillaume is there as a substitute for Nicolas’ regular escort, but we also get a sense that maybe this had been planned all along. In effect, it is Guillaume provides lightness to a very dark film. He is raw in his sexuality yet he comes across with an innocence and naiveté.
From what I know of Schneider, I see where he found the idea about Nicolas who like so many of us is concerned that his life is moving quickly and past him. Schneider tells us that “The Ghosts” is, among other things, definitely about the fear of death, the fear of not having lived before you die, and the fear of being alone… or not being alone.There are hints that the apartment is haunted, and we wonder whether the many people who come into Nicolas’s life are ghosts. Perhaps they have something to say about how the new world seems to be. Is it indeed haunting that we see or is it the results of alienation? It certainly is a reflection of what is happening in both Europe and North America nowadays.
You have undoubtedly noticed that I have not tries to explain the film or said much about the plot, if there even is one. I am not sure that I can explain what we see here because I have a feeling that this is a very personal film for Schneider. I suspect everyone that sees it will come away with their own idea of what happens here and to me that is the sign of a good film. As for what I see here, all I can say is that I am still thinking about it. Schneider told me that this is his last film. I hope that is not true but if it is, I wish him the best. I have a feeling that we will still be in touch.