FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON
Director: Nicole Garcia
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel, Àlex Brendemühl, Brigitte Roüan, Victorie Du Bois, Aloïse Sauvage, Daniel Para, Jihwan Kim
MPAA Rating: (for some strong sexuality and graphic nudity)
Running Time: 2:00
Release Date: 7/28/17 (limited); 8/18/17 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 17, 2017
The main character of From the Land of the Moon tests the limits of how much we're willing sympathize with a character, simply because she has vague and unexplained emotional, psychological, and physical health issues. Those problems are the only reasons we might feel something toward Gabrielle (Marion Cotillard, proving that she's one of our better actresses working today, by giving a performance that makes an intolerable character somewhat tolerable). They are the foundation of her character, a woman who seems to want everything and nothing, only to be disappointed when she simply gets something.
It's a romance, of course, because this is one of those movies that suggests any kind of psychological issue can be solved by love. The screenplay by director Nicole Garcia and Jacques Fieschi (based on a novella by Milena Agus) doesn't even get that right, either, because it constantly displays that this is a woman who can never be happy. It treats the character, not her issues, as a problem, up until the point that the only solution for her to find happiness is a plot twist so belittling of the character's psychological issues and so manipulative of the audience that it destroys all of the movie's conflict. If the conflict were worth caring about, that might be a point worthy of some anger. Instead, it's just another bad move on the part of the screenwriters.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Gabrielle lives in a small village in France. She has an almost schoolgirl-like crush on a local teacher (who may be her own teacher, although the movie is never especially clear on Gabrielle's age at any point in the narrative). He rejects her advances, including a rather racy love letter she writes to him. She responds by making a public spectacle in front of the entire village during a dinner hosted by her family.
The family doesn't know what to do with her, so they arrange a marriage with José (Àlex Brendemühl), a Spanish man who has come to work on the family farm, and offer him the means to start his own business in a city by the sea. He knows this is a marriage of convenience for both of them—him, so he can make something of himself, and her, so she can avoid being institutionalized in a psychiatric facility. Their arrangement includes him going to a local brothel on the weekend, but one night, Gabrielle decides to play prostitute for her husband.
A short time later, she has a miscarriage, and the doctor discovers that she has "stone sickness"—painful kidney stones. José insists that she receive treatment at a spa in Switzerland. There, she meets André (Louis Garrel), an ailing veteran, with whom she falls in love almost immediately, because he likes to read and, surely, for some other reasons that the screenplay doesn't bother to explain.
Nothing, really, is explained here, which is partly intentional (in order to set up that climactic revelation). It is also, partly, the symptom of a melodrama that is more concerned with a generic air of longing than with any details that might help us to understand and sympathize with these characters. They exist here as nothing more than vessels for worrying looks, yearning gazes, and confused gazes backwards when, say, Gabrielle thinks twice about rejecting André's admission of feelings for her. It says something that José, the opportunistic man who ignores and then pushes around his wife, is the most relatable character here. At least he's honest, especially when he points out that Gabrielle has a mean streak to hear.
All of this is told in a lengthy flashback after Gabrielle, traveling with José for a piano competition that their son is in, spots a familiar-sounding street name. The reason is as melodramatic as the rest of this drivel, which includes a montage of Gabrielle writing letters to André, which doesn't end when she promises that she won't write to him again, which should as no surprise to anyone by that point. The character is inconsistent, of course, but the screenplay can easily excuse that with the fact that she has issues.
How bad those issues are in reality is the point of the big, third-act reveal. It's unconvincing, makes her look as if she probably should have taken up her parents' offer for the institution, and turns José into a pretty terrible man, given that he has known the truth for as long as it has been the truth. The mistakes of From the Land of the Moon are wide-ranging, but they all start with a character who's not worth our time.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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