Blue 'Moon'

From the Land of the Moon (Mal de pierres)
(France/Belgium/Canada, 120 min.)
Dir. Nicole Garcia, Writ. Nicole Garcia, Jacques Fieschi
Starring: Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel, Alex Brendemühl 
Pacific Northwest Pictures
From the Land of the Moon is a film of a different era. Fifty years ago, it might have been the stuff of awards and rave reviews. There’s a lot to admire in its prestigious production that soaks up the scenery the Alps while French superstar Marion Cotillard acts her heart out playing Gabrielle, a young woman from a small post-World War II town who draws suspicions of madness because she believes in true love. It’s 2017, though, and movies need to do more than make their leading ladies long for a man to earn their laurels.

This unfortunately stiff production from writer/director Nicole Garcia feels weirdly out of touch as it unfolds Gabrielle’s story of longing for love and unraveling just as soon as finds it only to lose it shortly thereafter.  The film is stately and measured as Gabrielle patiently and pensively—too patiently and pensively?—waits for the men of the poems to come to life and turn her boring provincial life into romance. The blue Moon is a bit too much of a downer.

Garcia conveys Gabrielle’s struggle to find herself in a dry series of even-handed scenes composed mostly of disconnected medium shots with few cinematic flourishes. (Camera movement doesn’t seem to find a fan in Miss Garcia.) There’s an air of malaise (intentional or not) to Gabrielle’s tedious days waiting for poetry that never happens.

The film loses some of its intelligibility once Garcia expedites the time frame and ages Gabrielle to bring her to what should be a shattering revelation of loss. She doesn’t give Cotillard so much as a wrinkle and while the actress has a timeless beauty and shows some maturity through her costume changes, From the Land of the Moon can’t capture Gabrielle’s heartbreak when ten or fifteen years of unrequited love fly by as if they’re a weekend.

Even when the film begins, Gabrielle looks to be a very young forty. Garcia doesn’t let the audience get inside Gabrielle’s head in the early scenes that show the young woman gazing at the reflection of her vagina in the river or reading poetry alone. One doesn’t know anything about Gabrielle aside from the sense that she’s an old-school romantic type. From the Land of the Moon keeps her as little more than a vague Tinder profile that every man in her small town swipes left in search of a prospective uterus. Ditto her mother, who sees Gabrielle’s spinster status as a kind of madness and marries her off as a vaccine.

Unhappy before marriage and unhappy after, there’s no cure for Gabrielle’s miserable state. Her husband, José (Alex Brendemühl), surprisingly isn’t the one-dimensional oaf one often finds in these kind of pictures, but he isn’t exactly romantic or responsive either, which leave Gabrielle unmoved.

All she feels are the pains in her abdomen, which prompt a spa retreat to the Alps, a meeting with a moody and somewhat sexy officer named André (Louis Garrel), and the inevitable sexual awakening. Cotillard finds more to do with her character once Gabrielle escapes to the spa and becomes more than a passive observer to her own life. The restlessness of her performance evokes Gabrielle’s untapped desires, but there’s no passion to the film whatsoever, unfortunately, and even less chemistry between Cotillard and Garrel. From the Land of the Moon, unlike Gabrielle, never quite finds the spark it needs.

From the Land of the Moon is now playing in limited release.