Based on Milena Agus’s novel of the same name, From the Land of the Moon (Mal de pierres) tells the story of a passionate woman’s decades-long search for happiness, and the deep sorrow she endures along the way. Languidly paced, save for moments of intense passion, writer and director Nicole Garcia’s period film shines with breathtaking cinematography and compelling performances. (RMM: 4/5)
Review by FF2 Intern Roza Melkumyan
We first meet “Gabrielle Rabascal” (Marion Cotillard) in the late 50s as she accompanies her husband, “José” (Àlex Brendemühl), and their 14-year-old son, “Marc” (Victor Quilichini), to a national piano competition held in Lyon, France. On the way to the competition, however, Gabrielle recognizes the name of a street and immediately leaves the car in search of a particular address. On a resident list hanging in an apartment building she finds a name, and tears begin to form in her eyes.
The film flashes back to a small village in the south of France during WWII: a teenage Gabrielle develops an intense infatuation with her school teacher, who has lent her his copy of Wuthering Heights. Passionate and rebellious, she takes this gesture to mean that he desires her. At a communal village dinner, Gabrielle gives him an erotic letter, but he refuses her advances exclaiming that “it was just a book!” Enraged, Gabrielle shoves him and runs off.
Seeking to curb her daughter’s disobedience, her mother “Adèle” (Brigitte Roüan) decides to marry Gabrielle off to the honest, hardworking Catalan laborer José. Having recently fled his hometown in Spain due to the Spanish Civil War, José could use a fresh start. Adèle offers to set him up with his own contracting business by the sea if he will marry Gabrielle and bring her with him. Seeing the offer as his best option for financial stability, José accepts. However, upon hearing the news of her marriage, Gabrielle reminds Jose that they are strangers and asks him why he would choose to be unhappy. Understanding that her parents want to be rid of her, she ultimately agrees to the marriage on the condition that the two do not have sex. From then on, they barely speak to each other.
After the married couple settles into their new home, Gabrielle realizes that José spends part of his income on brothels. In order to save money, she agrees to have sex with him. When Gabrielle suffers a miscarriage due to kidney stones, or “stones sickness,” a doctor informs the couple that if they wish to have children, this illness must be cured. Though Gabrielle does not seem interested in a cure, José wants children and agrees to send Gabrielle to a spa in the Alps for treatment. There, Gabrielle meets “André Sauvage” (Louis Garrel), an injured veteran from Lyon who served in the Indochinese war. The two share a connection, and Gabrielle spends her days comforting André through his pain. The pair begins a passionate affair, which is cut short when the doctors tell Gabrielle she is cured and can return home to her husband. André vows that he will send for her as soon as he can, but his words are tested when Gabrielle finds herself sending him letters that go unanswered.
The actors in From the Land of the Moon succeed immensely at portraying their characters with an honesty that is deeply moving. Marion Cotillard’s brilliant performance invites the audience to feel empathy for the passionate Gabrielle. The vulnerability and sorrow reflected with such clarity in her eyes allows audiences to truly feel her pain. Àlex Brendemühl manages to make me feel Jose’s own pain, though his character speaks little and remains reserved, with subtle changes in facial expression that reveal his feelings. The cast as a whole skillfully conveys those emotions which are difficult both to endure and to witness.
Along with beautiful cinematography – the shots of the lavender fields are especially breathtaking in the sheer vastness they convey – From the Land of the Moon artfully shows the pain and desperation that exist in its characters’ longing for intimacy and love. Though she infuses her film with passion, Garcia, along with collaborator Natalie Carter, communicates the universal desire for a deeper connection and the silent heartbreak that people endure when they fail to achieve it.
© Roza M. Melkumyan (7/28/17) FF2 Media
Top Photo: Gabrielle looks towards the sea.
Middle Photo: Gabrielle and José leave the church.
Bottom Photo: Andre and Gabrielle sit together.
Photo Credits: IFC Films
Q: Does From the Land of the Moon pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
At the spa, Gabrielle and “Agostine” (Aloïse Sauvage), a maid, bond over the fact that they are from nearby villages. Agostine makes Gabrielle feel closer to home.