It's instructive to compare Hollywood's depiction of convent life with the nunsploitation pictures produced in Europe since the 1960s. Devotion and goodness might have permeated the likes of Leo McCarey's The Bells of St Mary's (1945), John Huston's Heaven Knows, Mr Allison (1957), Fred Zinnemann's The Nun's Story (1959), Ralph Nelson's Lilies of the Field (1963) and Robert Wise's The Sound of Music (1965), but temptation and sin came to the fore in such calculated shockers as Jesús Franco's The Demons (1972) and Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1976), Domenico Paolella's Story of a Cloistered Nun and The Nun and the Devil (both 1973), Gianfranco Mingozzi's Flavia the Heretic (1974) and Walerian Borowczyk's Behind Convent Walls (1978). 

Pitched somewhere between the two camps was Jacques Rivette's La Religieuse (1966), which contemporary critics felt erred back towards the Tradition of Quality after the rigorous nouvelle vaguishness of Paris nous appartient (1961). In fact, this adaptation of Denis Diderot's 1796 novel owes more to Robert Bresson's Les Anges du Péche (1943), which is fitting as the only previous sound era take on a Diderot text had been Bresson's Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945). 

Following a caption advising viewers that `this film is a work of imagination' that has been loosely adapted from its source and `should be viewed from a double perspective; history and romance', we are given a brief history of French religious orders and how Diderot drew on the life of Marguerite Delamarre. As the story opens in Paris in 1757, we see Suzanne Simonin (Anna Karina) in a wedding dress preparing to take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience that will make her a nun. However, she turns away from the altar and pleads at the bars of the supplicant chapel to be excused a vocation she feels unworthy to make. 

She returns home with her mother (Christiane Lénier) and her trusted servant (Françoise Godde) and is confined to her room until she sees sense. Her father (Charles Millot) sends Fr Seraphin (Marc Eyraud) to speak to her, but Suzanne is determined to resist. Realising that she has no option but to reveal the truth, Madame Simonin explains that she is the illegitimate result of an adulterous affair and that she feels the guilt of her only fall from grace each time she sees her. Suzanne is dismayed by the news, but is even more discomfited when her mother falls to her knees and pleads with her to spare her the shame of exposure before suggesting that it would be impossible to find Suzanne a worthwhile match if the truth about her parentage ever emerged. 

Seeing that her father is in no financial position to afford a dowry in such circumstances, Suzanne writes a note agreeing to enter the convent at Longchamp and her father thanks her for being so dutiful. Despite her best intentions, Suzanne finds convent life a strain and Mother Superior Madame de Moni (Micheline Presle) comes to her room to offer words of wisdom and to encourage her to pray. They meet often, in the chapel and the autumnal garden, and some of the other sisters seem to resent the special bond. But, while Mme de Moni is aware that Suzanne is unsuited for the religious life, she encourages her to accept God's will and seize the blessings that come her way. 

However, she receives nothing but bad news, as her mother and Mme de Moni pass away within a short space of time and Suzanne finds herself being victimised by the new Mother Superior, Sister Sainte-Christine (Francine Bergé). Having searched her room for the keepsakes that her mother had sent her via Fr Seraphine, Mother Sainte-Christine sets out to break her spirit. In addition to make her wash floors and keeping her on a diet of bread and water, she subjects her to an inquisition by three clerics and constantly searches her room. At one point, after Suzanne had asked one of the sisters to smuggle a letter out of the convent requesting a court hearing to have her vows annulled, Mother Sainte-Christine has her tossed into a cell. 

But lawyer Hébert (Jean Martin) is granted access to the convent and he confides that he is an enlightened man who has little time for religious orthodoxy. He also warns Suzanne that she will have to endure Mother Sainte-Christine's cruelty while the case is processed and she claims that any suffering will be worthwhile if it's accepted that she was forced to take the veil under duress. However, she underestimates the Mother Superior's detestation, as she is forced to live in rags and is denied any possessions besides a straw mattress. She is starved and prevented from praying, while Sisters Saint-Jean (Gilette Barbier), Saint-Ursule (Catherine Diamant), Saint-Jéròme (Annik Morice) and Saint-Clément (Danielle Palmero) are urged to ignore her presence. But they still have to step over her, as she lies outside the chapel door. 

When one of the nuns becomes hysterical when Suzanne tries to speak to her, Mother Sainte-Christine becomes convinced she is possessed and she has her hands bound and water thrown over her. Moreover, she asks the archbishop (Hubert Buthion) to perform an exorcism. He realises that Suzanne has been picked on, however, and is touched by her simple piety when she is asked to kiss the wounds on a crucifix. Ignoring the Mother Superior's protests, the priest recommends that Mother Sainte-Christine should be reprimanded for mistreating Suzanne. But her hopes of leaving the order are dashed when Hébert says the courts found the letter she had written to her mother consenting to join and she is crushed. 

Shortly afterwards, however, Lemoine comes to her room to ask if she would be willing to transfer to another convent. He escorts her to Saint-Eutrope, where she is greeting with gigglingly girlish enthusiasm by Madame de Chelles (Liselotte Pulver). She wears lace and sports an ostentatious diamond necklace over her robes. But, while Suzanne is too naive to realise that her new Mother Superior is a lesbian who encourages overt displays of affection among her charges, she recognises that she has displaced Sister Saint-Thérèse (Yori Bertin) in her affections and tries to reassure her that she doesn't want to rock the boat. 

However, Mme de Chelles is obsessed with Suzanne and they play spinet duos and stroll in the grounds, while the other nuns play blind man's buff. Delighted to have a mirror on her wall, Suzanne seems not to notice how touchy-feely her superior is until she comes to her room in the dead of night and is relieved when she leaves hurriedly on hearing noises in the corridor. During confession, she confides to Fr Lemoine (Wolfgang Reichmann) and is visited soon afterwards by Dom Morel (Francisco Rabal), a monk who reveals that he was also coerced into taking holy orders. 

When Mme de Chelles begins lamenting outside Suzanne's door each night, she accepts Morel's suggestion that they should flee. But, no sooner have they climbed the convent wall and checked into a nearby inn than he attempts to seduce her and she escapes into the night. Taking odd jobs in the village, Suzanne hears that Morel has been arrested and will spend the rest of his life in jail. Terrified of being caught, she is reduced to begging in the streets until an elegant woman takes pity on her. However, she merely wants Suzanne to join her brothel and, when she realises the fate awaiting her when she enters a room full of masked dandies, she blesses herself and leaps to her death from a window. 

Nobody had batted an eyelid either when Rivette staged a production of La Religieuse in 1963 or when Karina had starred in a separate staging directed by husband Jean-Luc Godard. Yet, the moment the Catholic Church got wind of this screen adaptation, pressure was placed on André Malraux and Yvon Bourges at the Ministry of Information to forbid its release on the grounds that it was both blasphemous and defamatory. Even though the critical response had been mixed, a furious intellectual debate erupted, with Godard in the vanguard. As a result, the film was shown in competition at Cannes before it was mothballed for a year to allow the fuss to die down. 

The reactionary backlash says more about the growing anxiety of the French Right than it does about Rivette's slant on Diderot. Writing with Jean Gruault, Rivette remains remarkably faithful to the source and resists the temptation to sensationalise the subject matter. Indeed, his restraint in depicting Mother Sainte-Christine's sadism and Madame de Chelles's infatuation contrasts strongly with the melodramatics found in such British convent pictures as Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger's Black Narcissus (1947) and Ken Russell's The Devils (1971). 

Micheline Presle, Francine Bergé and Liselotte Pulver excel alongside Karina, whose Danish accent and new wave celebrity help set her apart as a rebel with a cause. But the production values are every bit as crucial as the performances, with Jean-Jacques Fabri's art direction, Alain Levent's cinematography and Gitt Magrini's costumes being complemented by Michel Fano's deft sound design and Jean-Claude Éloy's sparingly used score. Few will have seen Joe D'Amato's Convent of Sinners (1986), but some may recall Guillaume Nicloux's 2013 heritage remake, with Pauline Etienne as Suzanne and Françoise Lebrun, Louise Bourgoin and Isabelle Huppert as her tormentors. Rivette's version is head and shoulders above its competitors. But it remains some way off his best work.

It's often forgotten that a good deal of mediocre tosh was produced by the Hollywood studios during the golden age when they entertained the world between the wars. The need to keep churning out pictures to fill double bills from Peoria to Pretoria meant that plotlines were recycled and shuffled with a regularity that inevitably affecting quality. There's less excuse for modern film-makers to peddle such hokum and it comes as something of a surprise to find an admired novelist and playwright like Amanda Sthers producing a limply conventional drawing-room farce like Madame. Coming almost a decade after she directed Carole Bouquet and Pierre Arditi in You'll Miss Me (2009), this comedy of errors aims for a soupçon of the boulevard swagger associated with Georges Feydeau. But, despite the best efforts of a polished cast, it raises only the occasional smile. 

Toni Collette used to be American expat Harvey Keitel's golf instructor. But she is now his trophy wife in a palatial Parisian abode, where the recession is biting so hard that Keitel is having to sell his father's favourite Caravaggio to Northern Irish art collector Michael Smiley. Keitel and Collette have two children of their own (Amélie Grace Zhurkin and James Foley), but he also fathered novelist Tom Hughes with a wealthy wife who didn't didn't her figure to the same punishing regimen as Collette. He arrives just as maid Rossy de Palma is laying out the table for dinner and, because the superstitious Collette refuses to seat 13, she asks hairdresser Alex Vizorek to give De Palma a makeover so that she can pass as a mysterious Spanish stranger.

Also expected to dine are Smiley, magazine editor Sonia Rolland, single mother Ginnie Watson, nine year-old piano prodigy Noah Labistie and his taciturn mentor Eric Zargniotti, London mayor Brendan Patricks and his boyfriend Tim Fellingham, old friends Stanislas Merhar and Violaine Gillibert. and Keitel's French tutor, Joséphine de La Baume. On seeing De Palma, Smiley makes a beeline for her and is amused by her simple piety, as she discusses the picture of the Virgin and Child beside her bed. He switches the place cards so that she sits next to him and he implores her to talk to him to prevent Watson from flirting with him (in the same way that Merhar is with Collette at the other end of the table). 

Ignoring Collette's orders to drink nothing and Keitel's suggestion to say less, De Palma tells an off-colour joke that earns a polite round of applause. But Smiley is smitten and is delighted when De Rossy compares him to Hugh Grant and declares that people like movies with a happy ending. He is also charmed when she walks round the table to help Labistie cut his meat. However, Collette and Keitel are shooting each other looks down the table that intensify when Hughes starts teasing De La Baume about being his father's mistress. But Collette reaches the end of her tether when De Palma stands to applaud when Hughes announces that he is engaged to De La Baume and she whisks her guests into the drawing-room to listen to Labistie play something before his bedtime. 

While Smiley scours the room for De Palma, she is receiving a ticking off in the kitchen from Collette for overplaying her part. She packs her off to bed as the clock strikes midnight and De Palma tiptoes along the servants' corridor with her shoes in her hands. Once everyone has gone, Keitel wakes Hughes (who comments on the irony that the Caravaggio is a Last Supper) and congratulates Collette on pulling off the tricky feat of improvising to save face. He slaps her behind before falling asleep with his book, leaving Collette to lie beside him fondling the necklace that Merhar (who is her secret lover) had given her. 

The next day, Hughes (who had told Smiley that De Palma was related to the Spanish royal family) gives him her phone number and he texts her while the family are driving to a golf lesson. Collette is appalled when Smiley suggests meeting De Palma at the George Cinq and she thinks he means the hotel. In fact, he takes De Palma to see The Invisible Man at the George V Cinema and whispers in the dark that he knows her real identity and is fine with it. Naturally, she thinks he means the fact she is a maid and is beaming with happiness when she Skypes with daughter, Salomé Partouche, who has hopes of becoming an ice skater. 

While De Palma and Smiley make love on black sheets, Collette is so stressed about the state of her own sex life that she calls shrink Jay Benedict, who suggests that she dressed as a French maid to arouse Keitel. The ruse works, but just as he removes his pyjama jacket, he receives a phone call from his bankers warning him that he needs cash urgently and he realises that everything depends upon the experts Smiley has hired confirming that his prize family heirloom is a genuine Caravaggio. With the moment passing, Collette resumes her fling with Merhar and Keitel continues to pick up linguistic tips from De La Baume.

Likewise, De Palma remains deeply in love with Smiley, even though fellow maids Sue Can and Ariane Séguillon warn her she's heading for a fall, especially as she keeps borrowing Collette's outfits for her assignations. But, having been touched by Zhurkin's wand while she's dressed as a fairy and having worn a princess costume to Foley's birthday party, De Palma feels she's in an enchanted wonderland. She's unaware, however, that Collette and Keitel have been spying on her and scarfing down burgers in their car, while she is dining at a fashionable outdoor restaurant with Smiley. Moreover, she has no idea that Hughes is using her romance as the inspiration for his second novel, after basing his first on Keitel's affair with Collette. 

But the bubble looks set to burst when Smiley takes De Palma away for the weekend and they roll up at the very chateau where her employers are staying with Merhar and Gillibert. However, De Palma manages to magic Zhurkin and Foley away with a Portuguese nanny so that she can join the others by the pool. They are discussing how different nationalities approach love and De Palma admits to being an old-fashioned Spanish girl. When Collette lets slip a snide remark about her morality, De Palma blurts out that she is the family maid. But Collette needs to save face and reassures Smiley that they are old friends before dropping the bombshell that they will have to continue their relationship on a long distance basis, as they are heading back to New York in order to cut down on their expenses. 

When they have a moment alone, Collette warns De Palma that she has made a fool of herself and that she will fall flat on her face because she lacks the class to cut it in her social circle. That night, however, as Collette swims naked in the pool, she is hurt when Merhar ignores her and struts away into the darkness. Moreover, he fails to keep their next rendezvous at the Colonnes de Buren in the grounds of the Palais Royal, although Keitel and De La Baume continue their French lessons and finally kiss on the banks of the Seine. 

One afternoon, Collette bumps into Smiley in the street and tries to set him up with Watson. However, he insists that he is happy with De Palma and Collette feels compelled to tell him the truth. As she walks away, she is nearly run over by a speeding scooter and Keitel has to bandage her ankle. Up in her room, De Palma is becoming concerned because Smiley has stopped returning her calls. Cann and Séguillon urge her not to appear desperate and she keeps wearing the earrings that Smiley gave her, even when she's baking in the kitchen. But, when he comes to visit Collette and she calls De Palma to serve them tea, he cuts her dead and she removes the earrings as she wanders back to her quarters. She packs a bag and leaves, getting a half-hearted hug from Hughes, as she helps him collect the pages that have blown off the table in the breeze. Smiley comes out to the terrace to ask Hughes if he has found a way to finish his novel and reminds him that a woman he had once admired favoured happy endings. As she walks across a bridge, De Palma takes a deep breath and strides out into her new beginning. 

Several French film-makers have produced pictures in a Woody Allen vein, none more successfully than Emmanuel Mouret. But the harder Amanda Sthers tries to emulate that smooth blend of highbrow chit-chat and effortless wit, the further she strays from her goal. She and cinematographer Régis Blondeau make decent use of their Parisian locations, while Herald Najer's production design cannily reveals how the other half lives. Yet Sthers always seems to be straining for the chic wit and biting social satire that she hopes will underpin her modern-day fairytale. The dinner party is particularly excruciating, as Collette and Mehrer whisper conspiratorially about their affair with nobody apparently overhearing them, while Hughes behaves brattishly with the embarrassed De La Baume. But such convolution pales beside the De Palma's preposterous antics, as a couple of sips of wine transform her from a long-standing servant who knows her place into a bon motting coquette.

Sthers is bailed out to some degree by knowing performances by Collette, Keitel and Smiley, whose seemingly sincere suitor turns out to be the biggest snob of them all. But De Palma (who remains best known for her collaborations with Pedro Almodóvar) struggles to entice as a Spanish Cinderella, no matter how plaintively Matthieu Gonet's score tries to remind us at every opportunity. Clutching her sac de voyage like a latterday Mary Poppins, De Palma exits with her head held high. But, otherwise, the denouement is as muddled as the one in Hughes's unfinished manuscript. 

Flemish director Michaël R. Roskam made an immediate impression with his Oscar-nominated feature debut, Bullhead (2011), which also made a star of compatriot Matthias Schoenaerts. But, while Schoenaerts went to France to earn a César for Most Promising Actor alongside Marion Cotillard in Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone (2012) and earned further kudos for his performances as Gabriel Oak in Thomas Vinterberg's Far From the Madding Crowd and Hans Axgil in Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl (both 2015), Roskam's stock dipped after the modest performance of his first English-language outing, The Drop (2014), even though Schoenaerts lined up alongside Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and James Gandolfini, in what would turn out to be his final role. 

Now, the Belgian duo join forces again on Racer and the Jailbird. But, while it boasts a screenplay by Thomas Bidegain and Noé Debré - who have contributed to such potent Audiard pictures as A Prophet (2009), Rust and Bone and Dheepan (2015) - this high-speed crime saga lacks the grit and intensity to convince or compel. 

Terrified of dogs since he was a child, Gino `Gigi' Vanoirbeek (Matthias Schoenaerts) wangles an invitation from Bernard `Nardo' Delhany (Thomas Coumans) to watch his sister, Bénédicte (aka `Bibi'; Adèle Exarchopoulos), race for the sports car team owned by her father, Freddy (Eric De Staercke). Claiming to be in the export/import business, Gigi uses his bluff charm to establish that Bibi doesn't have a boyfriend and is willing to go on a date, providing he doesn't bring her any flowers. From the outset, their romance is passionate and Bibi enjoys watching Gigi partying with friends like Serge Flamand (Jean-Benoît Ugeux) and Younes Bouhkris (Nabil Missoumi), who tell her tales about his wild youth. 

Alone in front of a real fire, Gigi confides that he often gets into trouble by acting on impulse and Bibi laughs when she asks him to tell her a secret and he replies that he's a gangster who robs banks. As a respectable businessman, however, Freddy is suspicious of Gigi and warns Bibi to be careful. But the rebel in her causes her to ignore his advice and she suspects nothing when Gigi returns from a trip to Poland with the facial injury he received robbing a bank managed by a friend of Nardo's (Stefaan Degand). She doesn't even smell a rat when Sandra (Nathalie Van Tongelen), who hangs out with the gang, tells her about the raid at a garden centre and drops a hint that she should check that Gigi really was out of Belgium at the time. 

Deciding to scare a confession out of him, Bibi quizzes Gigi about his movements while speeding through narrow country lanes. But he retains his composure and she receives a ticket for dangerous driving. Ironically, putting the pedal to the metal pays off at her next race, as Bibi finishes third. But Freddy tells Gigi that he will only let them marry if he stops telling lies. Desperate not to lose Bibi, but also loyal to his pals, Gigi finds himself being lured into another job and even Bibi begins to have doubts when he leaves her in the car to collect some hardware from a seedy garage. She notices the way he flinches at the sight of the guard dog and, when he cancels a promised weekend away, she demands that he tells her the truth. Gigi tries to explain that Serge and Younes are like family and compares the adrenaline rush he gets when they're working to the thrill Bibi that derives from racing cars. But she is too smitten to press him further and they make love. 

The daring robbery involves dropping a lorry container off a motorway bridge in front of an armoured car and Gigi is so stressed that he throws up as soon as they arrive at the hideaway. However, the containers have been booby-trapped and Younes is badly injured in the explosion. Meanwhile, Sandra has shown up at Bibi's apartment claiming to be too frightened to go home. But Bibi is curious to see inside Gigi's flat after he mails her the address and slips out. She gets a jolt when the land line rings, but doesn't answer (even though it's Gigi calling her from a payphone while trying to get through to a trusted doctor). However, she is freaked out when Sandra knocks and announces she is a police officer. She informs her that the gang has killed a cop and urges her to keep Gigi talking when he calls back, With tears streaming from her eyes, Bibi does what she is told and Gigi realises the game is up. 

Having crashed in a night race, Bibi loses interest in her car and goes to work at Freddy's construction yard. She remains loyal to Gigi, however, and sees him sentenced to 15 years, with five suspended to co-operating with the authorities. But Bezne (Kerem Can), the suave son of Albanian builder Assa (Serge Riaboukine), implies that Gigi will need protection in prison and suggests that Bibi asks Freddy for a 10% discount on materials to ensure that he stays safe. Nardo is furious and accuses Bibi of behaving as badly as their mother. But Freddy insists they will remain a family and he agrees to the deal when he discovers that Bibi is pregnant. 

Gigi is allowed to come to the hospital where Bibi is having her scan and wanders off to buy some baby clothes as a present. While waiting to cross the road, however, he kicks a dog that nips his ankle and runs away when the police come to investigate. Bibi despairs of him and threatens to have nothing more to do with him unless he surrenders. Shortly afterwards, however, she calls to tell him that she has not only lost the baby, but that she has also been diagnosed with terminal cancer of the ovaries. In a last bid to help him, she looks up the man she had seen at the garage and asks if he can put her in touch with the Albanian mobsters who can help break Gigi out of prison and smuggle him to Argentina, where they had once dreamt of starting a new life. When they refuse her request, Bezne agrees to help her in return for her Porsche and a 15% cut of the fee. 

Shortly after the prison warden (Sam Louwyck) allows Gigi out under armed escort to say his farewells to the comatose Bibi, he receives a tip off (using the code phrase `no flowers') from a fellow inmate that a plan is afoot to spring him. This involves beating him up and abducting him from the truck transferring him to another facility. But, even though the Albanians threaten further violence because they won't get paid until he arrives in Buenos Aires, Gigi doesn't want to go without Bibi and finds himself in a cage alongside a badly wounded dog. Steeling himself, he bends back the wire to steal the animal's choke chain, which he wraps round his jailer's neck before blasting his way to freedom with his gun. Finding Bibi's car under a tarpaulin, Gigi speeds through the city (in an extended point-of-view shot) to the cemetery, as we hear a flashback to the secrets conversation, in which Bibi had confided that she is immortal.

Closing with a possible allusion to Harry Kümels's Malpertuis (1971) - in which the gods of Greek mythology are imprisoned in a Belgian mansion - this is a film that strains credibility to breaking point. But Roskam stages it with such conviction that it's hard not to get swept along, especially as the frisson between Adèle Exarchopoulos and Matthias Schoenaerts is so palpable. Writers Bidegain and Debré certainly ensure there's plenty going on, as the love story runs parallel with the heists. But this `amour noir' begins to veer off the track after the gang is apprehended and fate begins to find ever more callous and unlikely ways to toy with a couple whose fatal attraction is never entirely convincing. 

Exarchopoulos is well cast as the daddy's girl with her mother's capricious streak, but her lack of curiosity about Schoenaerts and his lifestyle lazily allows Roskam to drag her down to his level. But, as his primary focus is on the scarred kid who was doomed the moment he was born on the wrong side of the tracks, the story sags once the imposing Schoenaerts disappears behind bars and few of the subsequent developments ring true, as the action descends ever more deeply into melodrama. Despite overdoing the POV shots through the windscreen of speeding vehicles, cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis produces some evocative visuals that are edited with undeniable dynamism by Alain Dessauvage. Geert Paredis's interiors are also atmospheric, with Schoenaerts's gloomy lodgings being a particularly effective setting for the whole truth to emerge. But, for all its ruminations on the roots and nature of criminality, this feels more generic than unique. 

Contrivances are equally plentiful in Arnaud Desplechin's Ismael's Ghosts, as a missing wife returns to jeopardise the happiness of a film-maker expecting a baby with his new partner. This is the director's seventh collaboration with actor Mathieu Amalric and continues their habit of revisiting and slightly revising characters from earlier films. In this instance, there's no guarantee that Ismael Vuillard is the same chap who cropped up in Kings & Queen (2004), especially as Amalric also played Henri Vuillard in A Christmas Tale (2008). And, just to make things a tad more interesting, Louis Garrel cameos as Ismael's brother, Ivan Dedalus, who shares a surname with the Paul character essayed by Amalric in Ma Vie Sexuelle (1996) and My Golden Days (2015). But Desplechin isn't content with peppering the action with allusions to his own canon, as he also names the reappearing wife Carlotta after the suicide whose grave and portrait ignite the mystery in Alfred Hitchcock's reincarnation saga, Vertigo (1958).  

As diplomats at the Quai d'Orsay discuss the disappearance of Ivan Dedalus (Louis Garrel) and recall how he was recruited late in life by the treacherous Claverie (Jacques Nolot), we realise that the fevered discussion is all part of a screenplay being written by director Ismael Vuillard (Mathieu Amalric), who is under pressure to complete the project on time and within budget by his line producer, Zwy Ashomer (Hippolyte Girardot). He is interrupted at 3am, however, by father-in-law Henri Bloom (László Szabó), a famous cineaste in his own right, who has never forgiven Ismael for the disappearance two decades earlier of his vivacious daughter, Carlotta (Marion Cotillard). As they look at slides of Carlotta as a girl, Henri blames Ismael for lacking the strength to cope with her after she emerged from her father's shadow. But he still invites Ismael to a forthcoming retrospective of his films in Tel Aviv and insists he is pleased that he has found a new love in an astrophysicist named Sylvia (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

As Ismael drops in on Sylvia on his way home and tumbles into her bed, she recalls their meeting at a party two years earlier. She had been intimidated by him and thought him uncouth for teasing her about her timidity. But he had taken her home one night and they had stopped off in a bar, where she had confessed to having a thing for married men and he had admitted to failing at fatherhood after adopting a child. Ismael had insisted on seeing her apartment and had amused her by leaving without kissing her. Now, however, they are an item and spending time at their hideaway on the coast. 

Back in the script world, Ivan meets Arielle (Alba Rohrwacher) at an airport and tells her about Elsinore Syndrome and the nightmares that torment him (and Ismael). However, we veer back into reality, as Carlotta appears on the beach and introduces herself to Sylvia. She brings her back to the cottage and Ismael is beside himself with anger for the way in which Carlotta has flitted in and out of his life and, by her return, upset Sylvia. When she wakes from a bad dream in the night, he sits with her, as she explains that she had sought anonymity in Paris, enlightenment in India and oblivion in drugs. But, during the 21 years she has been away, she had failed to find answers and now wants to settle for a while and take stock. 

As Arielle coaxes Ivan into marrying her before he is posted to Tajikistan, Carlotta and Sylvia go swimming off a secluded beach and discuss reading and religion, as they bask on the sand. Sylvia admits to being a lapsed Protestant, while Carlotta describes herself as `a renegade Jew'. Back at the cottage, Carlotta suggests that she and Sylvia are alike and baffles her by dancing to Bob Dylan's `It Ain't Me, Babe'. However, she makes no bones about the fact that she has come to reclaim her man and won't let Sylvia stand in her way, as she is still bitter from having married an older man named Alexander in India and being discarded by his family when he died suddenly. But Sylvia refuses to be deprived of her own idyll and reminds Carlotta that she walked out and has been declared `absent' and that she has no intention of stepping aside. 

After confiding in Ismael that she is jealous and doesn't know if she has the strength to wrench him away from Carlotta, Sylvia decides to leave and no amount of pleading can prevent her boarding the dawn bus. When Carlotta wakes, she disrobes in front of Ismael and lures him into bed. But he is adamant that she is his past and that Sylvia is his future and he closes up the cottage in order to fly to Israel with Henri. En route, he calls Sylvia from a payphone, but she doesn't pick up, even though he strives to reassure her that his feelings for her are unchanged. 

Flashing back two years, we see Ismael and Sylvia getting to know each other with a hesitancy rooted in their age and their suspicion they are probably wrong for each other. They kiss for the first time in front of Carlotta's portrait in Ismael's apartment and Sylvia teases him in bed about wanting to uncover the man behind the mask. But she also likes the idea of a dishevelled creative intruding upon her ordered world and they had made the most of their opposing attractions. 

Boarding the flight to Tel Aviv, Ismael is ashamed at keeping Carlotta's return from her father, as she doesn't wish to reopen old wounds. Henri has brought a bottle of champagne to celebrate the retrospective, but the anxious stewardess is unnerved by his assertiveness and fetches security when he refuses to take his seat. When challenged, Henri declares that he fought the Nazis as a teenager and survived an assassination attempt by the Algerians and Ismael tries to reassure the airline staff that this famous film-maker is not going to blow up the plane. However, when Henri accuses the stewardess of having jihadist tendencies, they are thrown off the flight and cooped up in a holding cell. 

While Henri gets to give his speech in Tel Aviv, Carlotta applies to have her official absence rescinded. However, the civil servant who interviews her informs her that her marriage to Ismael will remain null and void. Stressed by the trip and by losing Sylvia, Ismail returns to his home city of Roubaix (also home to Paul Dedalus and Arnaud Desplechin) and takes refuge in the attic of the family home. While Zwy tries to track him down through Faunia (the actress playing Arielle in the film), Ismael consults a doctor about his sleeping problems and pleads with him to find a cure that doesn't involve him being hospitalised. 

The medic used to be in Ivan's class at school and we cut away abruptly to a prison in Khodjent, where Ivan is attempting to make contact with Farias (Ahmed Benaïssa). In his absence, however, his apartment has been bugged and Arielle screams when she finds an effigy hanging over their bed. A security expert (Bruno Todeschini) finds the bugs hidden around their apartment and we see Ismael sitting alone running the scene in his head. He snoozes in the park, only for Faunia to invade his thoughts and urge him to come back to Paris to finish the film. They sleep together and she laments the fact that he is such a larger-than-life character, as she loves him, but can't cope with the extent to which his personality takes over hers. She advises him to return to Sylvia, as she alone knows how to handle him. 

Sylvia has booked time in a remote mountain observatory and Ismael remembers lying on a blanket gazing at the stars with her. Zwy has tracked him down in a bid to persuade him to finish the film. But Ismael reveals that he has lost interest in glorifying the myth of a brother who had despised him and who had died five years earlier as a petty functionary in Addis Ababa. Zwy sympathises with the fact that Ivan had been the apple of his father's eye and forced him to live with a great-aunt when he was 11, but he refuses to give up on the project and contacts the French embassy in Egypt in the hope of discovering the truth. He Skypes Ivan and is delighted to see he's very much alive. But he deeply resents Ismael making a film about him and cuts the line as Zwy asks him to speak to his brother and cajole him into saving the film.  

Having freaked out at seeing his besuited alter ego at the back door, Ismael fires a gun into the air and passes out. When Zwy finds him the next morning, he garbles an outline about Ivan's friendship in Prague with a Jackson Pollock-loving Russian named Igor (Gennady Fornin) and accidentally shoots Zwy in the arm when he gets carried away describing how Igor is killed by an exploding mobile phone and Arielle tells Claverie that she thinks Farias is trying to murder her husband. 

As Zwy conspires with the doctor who patched his wound (Samir Guesmi) to sedate Ismael and lock him in the boot of his car, Carlotta follows Henri through a Parisian shopping arcade. He is aghast to see her and phones Sylvia for advice, as he looks down on his daughter standing in the rain in the street below. Overwrought, Henri collapses and Sylvia is powerless to help him. Ismael is equally impotent, as Zwy has tied him to a bed until Sylvia can arrive to talk some sense into him. Their bedside scene is mirrored by Henri and Carlotta doing a variation on King Lear's reunion with Cordelia, as he wishes the doctor (Catherine Mouchet) would leave him alone, as he is 83 and ready to die. 

Cutting away to Sylvia sitting calmly on a chair in her home, she reveals that Carlotta disappeared again soon after Henri died and it took Ismael a while to recover from the loss of his mentor. He continues to show his films around the world, but is working on a new screenplay of his own, while waiting for Sylvia to have their baby. 

As director's cuts go, this 134-minute effort errs on the self-indulgent side, as Desplechin and co-scenarists Julie Peyr and Léa Mysius trust to luck that their sketchy plot strands can somehow be woven together into a feasible whole. Faced with a Herculean task of making sense of the movie-within-the-movie, let alone the capriciously non-linear core drama, editor Laurence Briaud should be commended for keeping things reasonably cogent until the show rolls into Roubaix. But even the most committed connoisseur will be left scratching their heads about the significance of the Igor interlude and the rationale behind Ismael's fib about Ivan's demise. Even Carlotta's account of her exile is decidedly spurious and it seems unlikely that the press wouldn't have picked up on the sudden return of the daughter of one esteemed film-maker and the wife of another. 

That said, there are some powerful moments here, including the flashback to the start of Ismael and Sylvia's relationship, Henri's meltdown on the plane and Carlotta's Dylan dance that raises all manner of Martin Guerresque questions that go unanswered. As always, Marion Cotillard is mesmerising, as the poor little rich girl who can't understand why no one is rejoicing at her prodigal return or bending over backwards to accede to her wishes. Similarly, Charlotte Gainsbourg exudes serenity as the astrophysicist with her feet firmly on the ground, while Mathieu Amalric returns once more to the well of Desplechinite angst and comes up with another engaging variation on their patentedly crumpled loose cannon. 

It would appear that Ismael's story contains more than a pinch of autobiography and self-referentiality. But Desplechin's insights into love, loss, artistic perspective and the illusory nature of cinematic truth are intriguing. Given the shifts in place, time and tone, Irina Lubtchansky's photography and Toma Baqueni's production design do much to unify the action, as does Grégoire Hetzel and Mike Kourtzer's seductive Bernard Hermannesque score. Yet, despite their best efforts, the closing reel rambles considerably and it would be interesting to see which were the 20 minutes that Desplechin initially thought he could do without when he produced his first cut for Cannes.