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Les Fantômes (Ghost Trail) | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

Les Fantômes (Ghost Trail) | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

The Executioner’s Song: Millet’s Stabbing Debut Looks at How Control Moves Beyond Borders

Jonathan Millet Ghost Trail Les Fantômes Movie ReviewIf a Syrian doesn’t find himself in Syria does he still make a sound? In Jonathan Millet’s feature debut, those who are far, far away from their past attempt to make the least amount of noise in this anti-thesis of a spy-thriller/revenge film. In one of the more complex roles in French-Tunisian actor Adam Bessa’s early filmography, Les Fantômes (Ghost Trail) is about what you are running away from and towards — the protagonist is so close to his target, he could smell…him. Unhurried and in protracted process bliss, tonally enthralling and buoyantly evasive, revenge here is served … slow.

Not unlike the Nazi hunters who at one time had to fine-comb the world to lock the target and catch their man, with little more than a photograph and a few testimonials, the primary reason Hamid (Bessa) can join a covert group hunting down the Syrian regime’s fugitive leaders is his unfortunate familiarity with his target—at least their voice. But memory is tricky. We are a bit past 2014, and Syria’s refugees are mainly in Germany but some are spilling into neighbouring France.

As a viewer, we can confirm the target before anyone else can — actor Tawfeek Barhom (Cairo Conspiracy) goes by the man of assumed identities Harfaz to some, and Sami Hanna to very few. He passes himself off as someone (else) who looks the part, blending well at the university, with people and in public spaces. Hamid, our lone wolf moral centre of the film’s only acknowledgement to himself is in conversations with his mother residing in Lebanon. In essence, both men are essentially walking and breathing split versions of themselves. Based on true events, we commence with a quick connect the dots from the misery of escaping to gaining a new identity to the ability to access the past. Memories are what allow Hamid to stay on target but have the mental dexterity for critical tests – saying the wrong thing or not knowing your poetry can kill your future prospects. When the group meets to discuss their findings and future decisions — Millet chooses an interesting cyber cafe video game talk channel and public envelope exchanges.

Co-written with Florence Rochat and rooted in his documentary filmmaking background, Millet subtly inserts exposition to illustrate how the Assad government casts a long shadow over Europe – the Syrian refugee crisis has pushed out millions upon millions to be uprooted and displaced. This creates a scenario where two groups are fleeing to the Old Continent for similar motives, yet their perspectives on their homeland’s events differ vastly. Can they be brothers in a foreign land when they were on different sides of the whip? Echoing Coppola’s The Conversation, we frequently hear firsthand accounts of torture as our anti-hero recoils and nervously bites his fingernails. Yuksek’s score adds an omnipresent beat with bursts of intensity, underscoring small maneuvers with significant implications.

Beautifully weaving multiple parallel realities, Les Fantômes is a gripping watch that eloquently explores the idea that tortured bodies have less scaring than to tormented minds and it suggests that truly understanding someone’s experiences is akin to using cheat codes for life. The film’s small but impactful surprises and twists contribute to what is an assured and compelling debut.

Reviewed on May 16th at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival – Directors’ Fortnight (Opening film). 106 Mins.

★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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