Thursday, June 13, 2024

“GHOST TRAIL”

THE STORY – Hamid, a member of a secret organization tracking down Syrian war criminals who have fled to Europe, travels to Strasbourg, France, in search of his former torturer.

THE CAST – Adam Bessa, Tawfeek Barhom, Julia Franz Richter & Hala Rajab

THE TEAM – Jonathan Millet (Director/Writer) & Florence Rochat (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 106 Minutes


Consistently defying the notions one may have of what a first feature should be, especially in a festival context, the Critics Week sidebar in Cannes decided to give its opening slot for 2024 to “Ghost Trail” (“Les Fantômes”), a co-production from France, Belgium, and Germany, inspired by real events. The feature debut of director Jonathan Millet, “Ghost Trail” continues his exploration of migration and exile, which have been recurring themes in his short films, and stems from a personal experience: having lived in Syria before the war began, Millet was shocked by the footage he subsequently received from his friends in Aleppo when the conflict broke out, and learned of what eventually became his film’s premise through conversations with acquaintances who fled the country to live in exile in Europe.

“Ghost Trail” mostly takes place in Germany and France, with flashbacks depicting memories of the troubled times in Syria. Hamid, played with understated intensity by Adam Bessa (a French-Tunisian actor featured in the “Extraction” movies and the Amazon Prime series adaptation of “Hanna”), is part of a secret organization whose mission is to track down Syrian war criminals on the run. His latest assignment has a very intimate meaning to him, as the man he’s tasked with locating is the one who tortured him back home. While he obsessively looks for this individual, with leads pointing to the city of Strasbourg, Hamid grows increasingly doubtful and paranoid.

From the jump, “Ghost Trail” takes on a very topical urgency, as the geopolitical context is not only fresh but is also reminiscent of other ongoing conflicts; moreover, echoes of other, similar operations (most notably, the hunt for Nazis after World War II) are clear, perhaps an implicit indictment of humanity’s cyclical penchant for self-destructive behavior across the globe. But unlike, say, Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” which had a more straightforward action-revenge approach – with moral nuance that has become more relevant in light of the recent escalation of the Israel-Palestine situation – Millet is more interested in the human side. Aided by cinematographer Olivier Boonjing and editor Laurent Sénéchal, he captures every instance of confusion, determination, and hesitation, as reflected in Bessa’s gaze and demeanor, favoring up-close dread and paranoia (straight out of the 1970s) over conventional genre-related spectacle and catharsis. It’s a quietly thrilling spy film that remembers the genre is primarily about people rather than gadgets and explosions.

In fact, it soon becomes clear why the original French title translates as “The Ghosts” (plural). The first one is, naturally, the elusive villain whose only tangible trace is the picture Hamid keeps showing people in hopes of finally coming face to face with his nemesis. But, little by little, Hamid himself also starts to feel like a spectral entity, floating from one location to the next on a quest that might end up claiming his soul, while the obsession eats away at his attempt to make a new life for himself away from home. And, it’s that pain, frequently shown in close-ups, that provides “Ghost Trail” with its compelling dramatic meat and bones, giving it the solid form from which its characters are drifting away.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Millet puts his own personal spin on the spy genre to deal with one man’s pain and a nation’s trauma at the same time, owing to the topicality of the (true) story.

THE BAD - Viewers expecting a more action-oriented film might take issue with the movie’s old school, ‘70s-inspired approach.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Millet puts his own personal spin on the spy genre to deal with one man’s pain and a nation’s trauma at the same time, owing to the topicality of the (true) story.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Viewers expecting a more action-oriented film might take issue with the movie’s old school, ‘70s-inspired approach.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"GHOST TRAIL"