From the Land of the Moon is a French movie about a tangle of unfulfilled and unrequited love, centered around a woman wanting love whilst all the while repelling it. The plot of the movie in and of itself asks the question "what do we really know about other people?".
Directed by Nicole Garcia, she also wrote the screenplay with Jacques Fieschi, based on a novelette by Milena Agus. The novelette is famous for its last page out loud "wow" moment at the end. The movie most, unfortunately, produces more of a "what" moment.
Gabrielle (Marion Cotillard) is a passionate, sexually liberated woman, yearning perhaps a little too much for fulfillment given its the 1940s. Gabrielle believes that the "principal thing" in life is to experience "unconditional love" and it is in pursuit of this that drives her. Her uninhibited pursuit of a married school teacher and some other notable behaviours makes her subject to village gossip and her mother fears this notoriety and her wild sexually driven intent will render her marriage less. Her mother gives Gabrielle two choices - an arranged marriage or the madhouse.
It is Jose (Alex Brendemuhl) a Spanish bricklayer who agrees to marry her. A veteran himself, Jose is a man of few words but clearly, likes the free-spirited and strong-willed Gabrielle. Jose does grow to love her despite her indifference to him. Gabrielle suffers a series of miscarriages and Jose sends her to a Swiss Clinic for spa treatments. There she meets Andre Sauvage (Louis Garrel), a returned soldier from the French War in Indochina, handsome and vulnerable. They share a passion for piano, Tchaikovsky's Juin-Barcarolle and each other.
The story is told almost in its entirety in retrospect and much is sacrificed from the novelette and in its translation to screen. In the Agus novelette, one of the reasons Jose is determined to make his marriage and create a new home to keep Gabrielle safe was because he was a widow who lost his entire family during an American bombing, in absence of that the line "I wanted you to live" barely makes sense. Other notable absences of the original storyline make Gabrielle's screen character seem so obsessed with her own obsessions, she is essentially totally oblivious to other people's feelings. Unfortunately, due to shifts a wonderful female character - once written as willful and unpredictable, the film simply portrays her as boring and self-obsessed the more it continues. There are a lot of scenes of Gabrielle running away but never getting too far and following retreats back into love's folly. You will ask yourself if Gabrielle is suffering from romantic insanity and the film will answer that. But best not ask of the film too much, despite some wonderful acting from Cotillard and Brendemuhl unlike the novelette, the movie doesn't deliver the brilliance of the story.
There are some beautiful movies to choose from at the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival (15th March - 5th April 2017) - so buy the From the Land of Moon novel which has been translated into English and see one of other French fabulous films.