From the Land of the Moon
Cast off as insane by her own family, Gabrielle pursues her need to fulfil the physical and emotional desires that burn inside her. Played by Marion Cotillard, her story is told mostly in retrospect, looking back at life in a rural family home that forced her into a loveless marriage to avoid being placed in a mental institution. The setting is 1950s France, hardly a time for sexual liberation for women in the Western world, where a family living in the countryside are unwilling to abide Gabrielle’s swirling emotions.
Bar a late stage twist in the tale, Nicole Garcia’s adaptation of Milena Agus’ Italian set novel is told in conventional style, held together by a compelling performance by Marion Cotillard. Gabrielle’s inner turmoil is expressed through the burning intensity of her eyes that speak of a single-minded determination to seek out these cherished experiences. The damage her pursuit of happiness causes along the way remains secondary without ever demonising her character for doing so. Much of that also comes down to the subdued – and at times – bewildering understanding shown to her by her husband José (Alex Brendermühl). Whether it is out of a sense of loyalty to Gabrielle or gratitude to her family for setting him up in business, we’re never quite sure.
Gabrielle is first introduced travelling to Lyon with her husband and son who is due to compete in a piano recital. Nearing the destination, a familiar street sign causes her to leave the car to investigate further. The narrative then swings back to a turbulent home life with her parents, informed by her burgeoning sexual awakening. Shortly after marrying José, a kidney stone diagnosis takes her to a Swiss clinic where she meets the dashing but similarly ill, Lieutenant André (Louis Garrel). Love and intense passion eventually blossoms between the couple peaking at a point neither she nor the viewer may quite expect.
DoP Christophe Beaucarne shoots against the stunning South of France where the sun burns almost as brightly as Gabrielle’s single-minded obsession to find love. Although, it appears she is more in love with the idea of experiencing the emotion, rather than genuinely feeling and absorbing it. Cotillard conveys her messy emotional state with a sense of composure and empathy that makes Gabrielle a complicated and frustrated character to watch. There is no ill will or malice behind her actions, more a naivety and deeply held resentment towards a life that has forced her to suppress rather than embrace her emotions.
In the hands of another actress it is likely Gabrielle would not have become such an intriguing character given how finely judged Cotillard’s performance had to be. There is a lot more going on in Gabrielle’s mind that the script doesn’t give us access to and Garcia is no doubt grateful for having an actress onboard like Cotillard who is able to turn water into wine. Whether it’s the fault of the source material, or lack of imagination from Garcia (who was responsible for adapting the screenplay) it's hard to tell, but either way, From the Land of the Moon barely manages to get itself lifted off the ground.