Film Review: From the Land of the Moon

Another French examination of l’amour fou, this one verging on risibility with its excessive devotion to the excessiveness of its heroine.
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In the long and honorable cinematic tradition of women crazy in love—poor, eternally unremembered Joan Fontaine in Letter from an Unknown Woman, Isabelle Adjani in The Story of Adele H, Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction and all the very many filmed Madame Bovarys—here comes Marion Cotillard in From the Land of the Moon. As Gabrielle, who marries José (Alex Brendemühl) out of convenience but falls in love with André (Louis Garrel), a World War II veteran she meets at a sanatorium while recovering from kidney stones, she runs the absolute gamut of passionate emotions, from obsessed to even more obsessed.

Director Nicole Garcia takes Milena Agus’ novel and fashions a prettily photographed but maddening movie out of it. Maddening because of the way she so totally sides with Gabrielle, as if a deeply passionate nature, however inappropriate and even unhinged, is enough to make a heroine of a creepily self-entitled woman who is really nothing but a two-hour pain in the ass. Garcia sets up a classic women’s film framework for this, with a Paris street-address sign triggering a flood of memories in the middle-aged Gabrielle, flashing back to her youth where you see her obsessed with a teacher and surreptitiously licking his copy of Wuthering Heights. She goes further, disgracing herself and family, when she physically lunges at him during a party, despite the fact that he is married to a pregnant wife. And the fact that she gets her husband to agree not to have sex with her, after her concerned mother (Brigitte Rouan) marries her off to this insanely agreeable Spaniard, will not make you feel any more sympathy for her always dubious behavior.

The intense Cotillard unsurprisingly throws herself into the role with the same feral force she lavished on her award-winning turn in the overrated farrago that was La Vie en Rose. Where Adjani as Adele H was able to mesmerize you with her unswayable wrong-mindedness through some alchemy of uncanny commitment and sheer, heart-stopping beauty I have yet to figure out completely, Cotillard’s acting seems mere narcissistic showboating, only emphasizing her character’s obnoxiousness.

Opposite her, Garrel, as her greatest passion, ladles on the doomed Byronic romanticism, combining delicate physical infirmity with a sensitive, literate nature, skilled piano playing (Tchaikovsky, which floods the soundtrack) and that patricianly equine Roman profile. How fabulous, indeed, it would have been if these two had been able to sweep us away with the power of their impossible love, but Garcia’s ploddingly pedestrian direction and favoring of the picturesque over dramatic logic in her overextended, underdeveloped (we never understand exactly why Gabrielle is the way she is) opus completely defeats them.

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