Any movie goer will agree; Marion Cotillard is the French queen. Between her emotional control, pastel skin and alluring voice, she can do no wrong in the eye of cinephiles. However, this was not the case for Nicole Garcia’s competition film, From the Land of the Moon (Mal de Pierres). Her performance as an insufferable, mentally instable woman is executed without flaw, but the character herself possesses such negativities that I found myself, impossibly, hating Cotillard. The film had every resource under the sun to be the romantic film of the year, but instead brought a vapid, lustful plot line with a contrived Hail Mary to close.
At the film’s open, we meet Gabrielle (Cotillard). As young woman living in the 1950s quaint countryside in France, she shamelessly chases her married teacher. She throws a manic episode when he doesn’t return her feelings, which is the first indication to the viewer of Gabrielle’s insanity. The audience can see her emotional stability isn’t quite right, and mainly centered around sexual desires. It is as if she is suffering from a stunted Freudian complex, and craves “the principle thing,” or what she calls sex.
Upon thrusting a table into the air in front of her desirable’s pregnant wife, she flees into the woods. After the episode, Gabrielle faces two options given by her apathetic mother who believes she “needs a man”: either marry a bricklayer or be sent to a psychiatric hospital.
Constrained by either choice, she opts for marrying the stranger. José (Alex Brendemul) is a kind, handsome worker. You can’t help but be shocked by how Gabrielle will not sleep with her hunk-of-a-husband after being so sexually frustrated before. José makes due by hiring prostitutes.
Gabrielle can’t find herself loving José despite his understanding nature and ability to give Gabrielle a comfortable home. After an unexpected kidney stone diagnosis prohibiting her to have children, she ends up at a temporary stay in a Swiss spa. It is here she meets another patient, Andre Sauvage (Louis Garrel). An Indochina veteran, and unexplainably handsome and brooding soul, Gabrielle falls for him. The only problem: he’s dying. Gabrielle’s insane and unrealistic tendencies lead to her to not care, and she completely dissolves her own being into his.
While every aesthetic choice in the film breeds romanticism like the love child of Nicholas Sparks and Edward Degas, the aura of the film could not fight the notion of romantic love more. Daniel Pemberton’s score makes endless love with the audience. You want to fall in love with the film, but it just won’t allow it. It’s disappointingly about sex, lust, the principle thing.
Cotillard performs in a highly convincing and emotional fashion as per usual. I can never tire of her Parisian perfection, and outside of Gabrielle, she was the luminous highlight of From the Land of the Moon. However, you can’t remove her from Gabrielle who is one of the most self-involved and frantically tortured characters I’ve come across at this festival. It’s a compelling idea: crazy lady seeks affair in 1950s France. It fails though, as her one-path mind annoys after the first act.
There is a defining moment in the end that gives reason to her and Andre’s relationship. However, the surprise ending feels more like a reaching attempt to thrill the viewer than a well conceived finale. You want to feel for Gabrielle in this situation, but after a tiresome two hours of watching her make those around her miserable, it’s hard to feign empathy.
Instead the characters the audience falls in love with are Andre, but more so José. The poor man stands by his wife throughout playing witness to her mental illness, he even lies to give her the comfort she needs rather than try and fix her. Garcia wanted a heroine, and got two heroes.
Despite the films transparent flaws, I actually enjoyed parts of it. Perhaps I was distracted by the golden light of Christophe Beaucarne’s cinematography choices or that I have a soft spot for the loonies of the world. The end surprise could go either way for viewers. Is Gabrielle really a self-involved and unforgivable wife and mother? Or is she simply, a victim to her own insanity?
From the Land of the Moon
Director: Nicole Garcia
Writer: Nicole Garcia, Jacques Fieschi, based on a novel by Milena Agus
Producer: Alain Attal
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel, Alex Brendemuhl, Brigitte Rouan, Victorie Du Bois, Aloise Sauvage, Daniel para, Jihwan Kim, Victor Quilichini
Running Time: 120 min