Starring Marion Cotillard. In French, German, and Spanish, with English subtitles. Rated 18A
To some, Marion Cotillard’s latest depiction of a damaged, sexually charged woman in From the Land of the Moon will seem overwrought, melodramatic, and maybe, by the end, a little silly. To others, this will be the film equivalent of their favourite summer beach read, a sensual, all-consuming tale of amour fou, set in impossibly gorgeous ’50s French locations.
In case you haven’t guessed, we’re in the latter camp. Guilty as charged. Don’t judge, s’il vous plaît.
It’s hard not to get swept away by the early setting, with Cotillard’s Gabrielle growing up in rural Provence, the Spanish workers on her family farm harvesting fields of purple lavender under hazy heat to a buzzing chorus of grasshoppers and bees. At night, they eat at long tables outside, under strings of lights that sway in the mistral.
But Gabrielle is too hot to handle for this conservative Catholic setting—so fired up over her teacher at one point that she has to wade in the local creek, her full ’50s skirt floating up at her waist. This is Cotillard at her fearless best (in what may be her best offering since Rust and Bone), an enigmatic mix of stubbornness and petulance, with a dangerously romantic heart. After Gabrielle expresses her unhinged passion a little too publicly, her mother gives two options for saving the family’s reputation: Gabrielle goes to the insane asylum or she gets married off to a stranger, the even-tempered Catalan farmhand José (Àlex Brendemühl). Gabrielle goes with the latter, but tells José she’ll never love him. She’ll never sleep with him, either, but her parents will set him up in his own business; till now, he’s had nothing, so he agrees.
Years later, the sickly Gabrielle is sent to a picturesque old spa in the French Alps to find a cure. There, she finds her ideal lover: the poetic, darkly handsome, and tragically ill young soldier André Sauvage (Louis Garrel), sparking a relationship that will send her into another spiral of obsession.
There’s more, including a plot turn that stretches all believability. But depending on how susceptible you are to your own amour fou, you’ll submit to it willingly by the time it rolls around. Cotillard casts a spell here, even when Gabrielle is being cruel. But watch Brendemühl, too, stoic and enigmatic, a man who has learned to bury his past, his pain, and his identity.
It isn’t all as tawdry as it sounds: in her exquisitely shot film, director Nicole Garcia poses some compelling questions about class and war—both Franco’s in Spain and the Indochinese battle that’s ravaged Sauvage.
But now it sounds like we’re making excuses, doesn’t it?