Not even Marion Cotillard can boost this arduous account of soulmates and sexuality.
Every year, there’s that one film from Cannes which gets a critical mauling. This year was the turn of In The Fade, and twelve months ago, From the Land of the Moon felt those thrashing teeth. Now prepped for theatrical release here in Blighty, it really isn’t hard to see why. Sure, this is a melodically photographed work, and anything fronting the supreme Marion Cotillard warrants watching, but director Nicole Garcia’s wartime romance infuriates with its meandering pace, and recycled storytelling.
Postcard cinema if there ever was, Garcia’s idyllic French voyage unfolds over two arduous hours, as Cottilard’s heroine, Gabrielle, dreams of escaping the clutches of a predetermined fate. It’s the 1940s, and she and husband, José (Alex Brendemühl), are taking their son, Marc (Victor Quilichini), to Lyon for a piano competition. When Gabrielle spots the name of a street by chance, she gets distraught and panicked, demanding their driver stop the car. Flustered, she rushes over to an apartment building and traces her finger over a name by the buzzer code – Sauvage.
From here things take a conventional, and peculiarly explored turn. For a film of much narrative simplicity – it is after all, just another love story – From the Land of the Moon takes a significantly long time to roll out the obvious. It becomes evident that Gabrielle has always been something of a black sheep; the wildcard of her family unit, as it were. The eldest of humble French villagers, she was proclaimed “mad” by her community because of her tendency for fits, cramps, and histrionics. Yet for her, the sole attention and compassion she seeks is that one principle thing – to experience unconditional love. Spaniard José is not the one who she’ll find such intimacy with, for their marriage arrangement was enforced by her tiresome mother.
So, where does the mysterious ‘Sauvage’ come from then? Well, that’s the kicker. Following a miscarriage (poorly handled considering its emotional density…), the loveless duo head to the coast. Dependable, and boring, José begins to build them a house. Meanwhile, Gabrielle now suddenly might or might not have stone disease, and is taken to a spa center for therapeutic treatment. There, she meets André Sauvage (Louis Garrel); the floppy-haired heartthrob suffering from a kidney infection following a military tour in Indochina. Of course Sauvage is way more interesting, charismatic, desirable, and spiritual than José, despite having the personality of sea kelp. Seriously, he just grunts and sighs; that’s pretty much the entirety of his character genetics.
Garcia’s intention is somewhat admirable. She is attempting to underpin the inner turmoil of a conflicted soul; a person who has comfort and stability, yet lacks fulfilment and completion. Her sexual frustrations, and fundamental womanhood somehow oppressed by her seemingly innocuous partner. The trouble is, From the Land of the Moon lacks any of the subtlety, and worse, potency, to make such expressions come to light. The watered screenplay doesn’t provide enough for the usually magnetic Cotillard to feed on, therefore seizing any opportunity for the audience to become emotionally invested. Instead we feel like tourists upon an extremely long, and extremely repetitive, scenic route.
That’s not to say the film, which competed for the Palme d’Or in 2016, is completely without merit. The visuals are tranquil for starters, and its melodic score contains the poetry so sorely lacking from the narrative. Garcia’s direction is somewhat commendable too, even if her editors insist on throwing plentiful spanners.
Ironically, this is a story about freeing from entrapment – both physical and psychological – yet many spectators are bound to find themselves rattling the bars; desperately trying to escape this prison of mundanity.
From the Land of the Moon opens in select UK cinemas on Friday 9th June.