Mal de Pierres (From the Land of the Moon), 2016.
Directed by Nicole Garcia.
Starring Marion Cotillard, Alex Brendemühl and Louis Garrel.
A spirited but delusional young woman in post-war France ends up in a marriage of convenience. When an illness takes her to a retreat in the Alps, she meets and falls in love with an injured soldier. But her obsession with romance often colours her memories, confusing her reality.
France’s new Queen of Cannes, Marion Cotillard, returns to the festival with a lush-looking but middling romantic drama.
Inspired by Milena Agus’s eponymous novel, Mal de Pierres (From the Land of the Moon) tackles the themes of female desire, fantasy and ennui. There are touches of Gustave Flaubert, Daphne du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith, however, this adaptation often feels more ponderous than passionate.
Set in the post-WW2 era, Cotillard plays Gabrielle, a bourgeoisie country girl who lives with her parents and younger sister. She’s prone to powerful crushes, even fixating on her teacher who spurns her public advances. The embarrassment causes her parents to arrange a marriage with a handsome, modest Spanish worker named Jose (Alex Brendemühl). He admits he’s attracted to Gabrielle and the deal is made sweeter with the offer of cash to start his own business. Surprisingly Gabrielle agrees to the match in a bid to escape from what she sees as her suffocating home.
The newlyweds move to the coast where Jose launches a construction firm. Their union is comfortable but sexless as Gabrielle still harbours dreams of a perfect love. When that longing appears to physically manifest in stone’s disease, Gabrielle’s doctor advises a spa retreat in the Alps where she can take “cure”. At the beginning of her stay, Gabrielle paces around alone and distant but then she meets an attractive, wounded soldier (Louis Garrel) who shares her interest in the piano and poetic musing. The pair form an immediate bond, though Gabrielle’s overactive imagination quickly blurs the line between fact and fiction, impacting her life for years to come.
Mal de Pierres is reminiscent of those gorgeous melodramas that Hollywood and Europe used to produce decades ago. Director Nicole Garcia takes a conventional approach to the material, relying on stunning scenery – fields of lavender and the Mediterranean seaside fill the screen in honeyed-hues – and the performances of her cast. Sadly the characters are sketched quite thinly, giving the talented cast a tough job to do.
Cotillard is reliably magnetic and gives the stately film a much-needed pulse. Her Gabrielle mourns and rebels exquisitely but audiences may find it hard to sympathise with her self-involvement and histrionics, especially since Brendemühl’s Jose is incredibly patient and forgiving. Indeed Brendemühl quietly impresses as the Spanish civil war fighter turned entrepreneur and husband, showing strength in restraint. Garrel also does well in his supporting role as the enticing, albeit wan, object of affection.
If Mal de Pierres was infused with the same burning lust apparently felt by its leading lady, it would be a great romantic character study. Instead it’s refined, pretty and sort of satisfying.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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