THE STORY – In the streets of Paris, Juste collects the last memory of people only him can see, before helping them into the afterlife. Juste is a ghost. But one day Agathe recognizes him. She knew him when he was alive.
THE CAST – Thimotée Robart, Judith Chemla & Saadia Bentaïeb
THE TEAM – Stéphane Batut (Director/Writer), Christine Dory & Frédéric Videau (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 104 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
“Burning Ghost” presents a world in which the dead mingle amongst the living, often unseen and unnoticed. This French film, also known as “Vif-argent,” has a fascinating concept that it doesn’t quite deliver on. It’s casting director Stéphane Batut’s first feature-length film and he certainly shows promise as a director. However, it almost seems like the film is too dedicated to producing interesting visuals to remember to flesh out its characters and plot.
The movie won the prestigious Prix Jean Vigo in France. As an American viewer, it feels very much like a French film. Not just because there’s a fair amount of casual nudity in it (and there is), but because of its focus on aesthetics. As a result, there’s some vagueness about the action and meaning of what’s happening in the film. Batut, Christine Dory and Frédéric Videau’s screenplay is poetic, but leaves much to the imagination of the viewer, to the point that the inner workings of the characters’ lives don’t always make sense.
The film follows a young man, Juste (Thimotée Robart), who lives in a sort of limbo between the real world and that populated by ghosts. He’s employed by a mysterious agency of some sort in helping the dead cross over into the afterlife by asking the recently departed to share a memory with him. These memory sequences in which Juste is able to step into the memory and its backdrop are easily the best parts of the film. (The part in which he aids an elderly woman who tells a story about her father is the highlight of the film.)
Juste is tormented by his lack of memories of his own life and is surprised when he comes across a woman named Agathe (Judith Chemla) who recognizes him from his life before, though she is convinced he simply resembles the man she knew. The two quickly become entangled romantically, though Juste finds that his attachment to Agathe is at odds with his assignment.
“Burning Ghost” is leading man Robart’s first film and he does a good job as the intense but soft-spoken lost soul. Despite the sequined jacket he wears for much of the film, he exudes loneliness and a haunting presence befitting that of a ghost. Chemla is more solid and emotive, with a few great scenes as she becomes genuinely upset.
The film suffers from its pacing, with the middle much more interesting than its slow to take off beginning and ambiguous ending. Editor François Quiqueré seems to purposefully cut things to leave the audience in the dark at times and has some very intriguing scenes with transparent ghosts. The lighting of the film alternates between blue, yellow and red tones to reflect the changes in mood and the feelings of the characters.
“Burning Ghost” has some parts that are very visually pleasing but suffers from a lack of focus on making the mechanics of the story work. If you enjoy more fluid and poetic films and don’t need a full understanding of the action, you may enjoy it. But, ultimately, the execution of its interesting idea about a man stuck helping other souls journey to the afterlife, while he himself is torn between the two worlds, leaves something to be desired.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – A fascinating concept and some intriguing aesthetics along with a few truly great scenes.
THE BAD – It doesn’t quite deliver. The beginning is a bit slow and its vagueness could annoy some viewers.