From the Land of the Moon - Cannes Film Festival 2016 Review
From the Land of the Moon is based on a novel by Sardinian author Milena Agus. Nicole Garcia directs, and adapted the screenplay of this period drama with Jacques Fieschi. The film is showing in competition at Cannes.
Marion Cotillard stars as Gabrielle, a young woman from Provence who lives with her parents in the late 1940s. Considered strange by her community (she makes provocative advances to the married schoolteacher; stands naked at windows) her family are eager to marry her off to Spanish migrant José (Àlex Brendemühl). Gabrielle agrees to the marriage to avoid being interned in a psychiatric institute - she vows that she’ll never feel anything for her husband. A few years later, while recovering from illness at a Swiss spa, she falls for war veteran André Sauvage (Louis Garelle). Will he return her affections? And will she leave José?
From the Land…’s main trouble is that its lead character is entirely unsympathetic. Garcia, it seems, aims to make Gabrielle a sort of symbol of the way in which women's sexuality was repressed at the time. However, this is done without subtlety: the film’s first scene is that of Gabrielle bathing her genitals in a stream. And while she is indeed repressed, the story is really more about mental illness - Gabrielle’s permanent melancholia is only really tempered by moments of rash impulsiveness. This is why she is ostracised from the rest of her society. It's unfair, but Cotillard doesn't give Gabrielle much nuance, and so it's difficult to commiserate with her repeated tantrums. José, even if Gabrielle had little choice in marrying him, is kind and eager to accommodate her demands, and so instantly becomes more likeable.
Garcia also struggles to capture any sense of romance in her love story. Gabrielle's relationship with André is anything but romantic - on her side, it looks obsessive; from his, calculating. Clearly Gabrielle is desperate to be loved; just not by her loving husband, who drives hours to visit her. What's more, the story's twist ending comes across as clumsy. It’s not properly explained, and while clearly intended to be moving, it’s in fact rather troubling.
It’s difficult to praise Cotillard’s performance. She sticks to a detached expression nearly all the way through - giving way to occasional expressions of panic. The same goes for Garelle, who looks permanently pained. Brendemühl, on the other hand is allowed a greater emotional range, and is especially compelling in the film’s last scenes.
Images are tinted in cold, moon-like colours; the cinematography shows off the coasts and la farming life of Southern France as well as Switzerland’s claustrophobic mountains. While Garcia’s direction is overall fairly standard, some moments truly stand out. A scene in which Cotillard spills a bundle of letters on the beach is really mesmerising.
From the Land of the Moon is a little irritating, a little disappointing, but not a wholly uninteresting watch.
Marion Koob is The Digital Fix’s Cinema Editor. She will be tweeting throughout the festival @marionkoob.