DIR: Nicole Garcia • WRI: Jacques Fieschi, Nicole Garcia • PRO: Alain Attal • DOP: Christophe Beaucarne • ED: Simon Jacquet • DES: Arnaud de Moleron • MUS: Daniel Pemberton • CAST: Marion Cotillard, Louis Garrel, Alex Brendemühl
Sometimes it takes a film like From the Land of the Moon to highlight the startling lack of films exploring women’s sexuality. There are examples, certainly, but rarer still are those examples exempt from falling into the characteristics of male gaze. Blue is the Warmest Colour suffers from this, where its explicit depiction of a lesbian couple having sex remains a contentious debate for viewers and critics alike. As an exploration of sexuality from a woman’s perspective, Nicole Garcia’s eighth feature film to-date should feel like a refreshing antidote, but From the Land of the Moon exhibits a lot of hesitancy and restraint from some of its core themes.
Based on the novel by Milena Agus, the film contains a lot of strengths which make for compelling viewing, most notably Marion Cotillard. Carrying the events of the novel from Sardinia to France, Cotillard plays Gabrielle, a fervent and unconstrained woman who develops an obsession with her village’s schoolteacher. When her advances are rejected and she exposes herself to nearby farmhands, Gabrielle’s mother marries her off to a Spaniard named José (Alex Brendemühl; The German Doctor). Deeply afflicted and suffering an unexpected miscarriage, Gabrielle is sent to a spa in the Alps, where she meets Lieutenant André Sauvage (Louis Garrel; The Dreamers) and becomes deeply fascinated by him. As her treatment draws nearer to completion and her return to France all the more sooner, Gabrielle yearns to leave her former life and run away with André before it’s too late.
Cotillard has the misfortune of being significantly typecast as Hollywood’s femme fatale, from Inception all the way to 2016’s Allied with Brad Pitt. More often than not, it takes her French productions to showcase her significantly capable range that helped her achieve Oscar fame as the late Edith Piaf. Cotillard slips into the role of Gabrielle with dexterous ease, developing both a fascinating and perplexing lead that the viewer never feels certain of. This is complimented further by the gorgeous cinematography of Christophe Beaucarne (Mr. Nobody), who shoots each landscape as beautifully as Franco Di Giacomo had in The Night of the Shooting Stars.
Where From the Land of the Moon flounders is in its screenplay, which lacks the compulsion of its strongest qualities. Co-written by Natalie Carter, Jacques Fieschi, and Nicole Garcia, the story uses the tired narrative device of flashback to anchor its story immediately with a sense of drama and urgency. It only serves to undermine the sequence of events when audiences have already been informed of the outcome. In an effort to give the cheap technique a merit of inclusion, the film throws in a slightly predictable twist which is as ill-conceived as it is unwelcome. Without spoiling too much, its final reveal undermines much of the narrative and thematic reasoning which had preceded, concluding with a rather depressingly conservative outcome.
In its attempt to explore women’s sexuality, Nicole Garcia struggles to form a solid foundation. Too often From the Land of the Moon relies on themes well-trodden by Garcia in the past, primarily in regards to unrequited love and unfulfilling marriages. While direction and production are still to the high quality expected from Garcia, the false promise of exploring new territory makes the overall experience feel lacking, despite its better qualities. While the film remains an adequate romantic drama, its promises to explore a more insightful subject matter makes for an overall disappointing experience.
16 (See IFCO for details)
From the Land of the Moon is released 23rd June 2017