(director/writer: Rebecca Zlotowski; screenwriter: Robin Campillo; cinematographer: George Lechaptois; editor: Julien Lacheray; music: ; cast: Natalie Portman (Laura Barlow), Lily-Rose Depp (Kate Barlow), Emmanuel Salinger (Andre Korben), Amira Casar (Eva Said), Pierre Salvadori (Andre Servier), Louis Garrel (Fernand Prouve); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Fréderic Jouve; Vision Films; 2016-in French/English, with English subtitles when needed)

All style and of little substance.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The promising 36-year-old French filmmaker Rebecca Zlotowski (“Belle Epine”/”Grand Central”) directs a misfire she co-scripts with Robin Campillo. It’s a weakly scripted and messy sprawling enigmatic arty drama that disappoints because it’s all style and of little substance. The film is loosely based on a true story.Laura (Natalie Portman – delivers her lines in both French and English) and Kate (Lily-Rose Depp-the daughter of Johnny Depp) are a pair of American spiritualist sisters in 1930s Paris, on a tour with their séance act. Big sister Laura is the manager and emcee, while the withdrawn little sister Kate has the gift of being a psychic. While in Paris, the sisters connect with the haunted middle-aged French-Jewish producer Andre (Emmanuel Salinger), who wants to shoot the sisters’ séances as part of an ambitious new film (he wants to be the first filmmaker to capture ghosts on film). He casts Laura as the star of the project (alongside a matinee idol played by French heartthrob Fernand Prouve- Louis Garrel). Tension arises over this career move, with a resistant Kate not embracing it and holding onto to her belief she’s a real psychic and not an actress. Meanwhile Kate and Andre are seen by Laura having some hot sex, which might or might not bother her. Aside from a sibling bond seeming not quite real and an unconvincing blasé performance by Depp, the opaque story comes together only in dribs and drabs as we too slowly discover things we should know about it. Though I don’t question the performance of Portman or the film’s visual beauty (The first French film shot on digital supercamera Alexa 65) or its craftsmanship, but I’m taken aback by how the director failed to get under the skin of either character. That’s a flaw, especially in a film supposedly deemed as both a character study and a chance to look back at the ghosts of the past. The film fails at both objects. In this awkward period tale film, knowing the sisters means only knowing them as ghosts. In the end, the film is only capable of giving the viewer a superficial look at the past (such as calling out that no one in France could see the war clouds emerging even if the signs were there).