From the Land of the Moon Trite and Sexist

Directed by Nicole Garcia
IFC Films, 120 minutes, R (nudity, sexuality)
In French with subtitles

From the Land of the Moon was nominated for eight César awards and won none, thereby proving that sanity prevails in the land of fromage and croissant. Even though Marion Cotillard was cast in the lead role of Gabrielle, the best that can be said of the film is that Cotillard's appearance is akin to placing an elegant beret atop a cheap wig.  The film garnered middling reviews and the only thing that kept it from being savaged is that a woman, Nicole Garcia, directed it.

Think I'm kidding? Imagine if a man directed a film with these themes. Gabrielle is a sexually precocious teenager who tries and fails to seduce one of her married male teachers. She's also incorrigible, which leads her mother, Adèle (Brigitte Roüan), to arrange a hasty marriage to a Spanish laborer, José (Alex Brendemühl), whom Gabrielle finds boring and physically ugly. José agrees not to have sex with Gabrielle because, after all, the arrangement is financial insofar as he's concerned—not to mention that Gabrielle is obnoxious and mean-spirited. José does, however, prosper and he's a decent man who is at least willing to keep Gabrielle in material luxury.

But wait, we have a reason for Gabrielle's unpleasantness. The French title for this film is Mai de pierres, roughly "stone sickness." Gabrielle's libidinous desires are not so much a matter of frustrated sexual awakening as the fact that her body is riddled with kidney stones that occasionally cause her to double over in agony. So it's off to a posh sanitarium in the Alps to take a cure—not that the state of medicine is very advanced during this time, which is right after World War Two and in the midst of France's disastrous attempt to reassert control over Indochina. Gabrielle spends her days taking various water cures and throwing wobblies, until she mellows a bit in the presence of a kind nurse, Jeannine (Victoria DuBois), and when she helps care for and develops a deep lust for a handsome amputee André (Louis Garrel). Or at least that what's we are led to imagine, because we see things through Gabrielle's thoughts and not all of them are reliable.  

This could have been a film about female desire, or mental illness, or perhaps even France's fall from geopolitical relevance. One could have, for example, equated André's missing leg and feverish weakness with the dismembering of France's prewar colonial might, with Gabrielle representative of a population weighed down (stone-like) by sclerotic leaders blind to new realities. Instead it's just a big strip tease for a final reveal for characters about whom we've long since ceased to care. Not even Cotillard can redeem a role that's essentially that of a mimsy mooncalf.

There are but two reasons to consider this film. The first is its beautiful glimpses of the Alps in their niveous winter splendor and again in their verdant summer clothes. I'd suggest downloading a good travelogue instead. The second reason would be to open a contentious dialogue about double standards in contemporary filmmaking. Is a sexist film any less so if a woman directs? I'll skip that debate and simply declare From the Land of the Moon unworthy of further analysis.

Rob Weir

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