FROM THE LAND OF THE MOON (Mal de pierres, France, 2017)

August 1, 2017

 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Nicole Garcia (The Adversary, 2002) takes the best-selling novel from Milena Agus and harkens back to good old-fashioned movie melodrama – with a French twist. Of course, most any project is elevated with the beautiful and talented Marion Cotillard in the lead role. Few can suffer on screen as expertly as Ms. Cotillard, and she conveys that disquiet through most of this story.

What is love? You’d best not look to Gabrielle (Cotillard) for clarification. As a young woman, her search for love and sexual fulfillment follows the fantasies of the novels she reads (Wuthering Heights). Her corresponding inappropriate behavior teeters between delusion and hysteria. It’s the 1950’s in rural France, so her actions and attitude are not much appreciated, and her parents bribe Jose (Alex Brendemuhl), a local bricklayer, to marry Gabrielle. She is then given the choice of (an “arranged”) marriage or a mental institution.

As a romantic dreamer whose blurred reality expects love to mirror those romance novels, Gabrielle’s self-centeredness and failure to grasp reality results in a loveless marriage – and easily one of the most uncomfortable lovemaking scenes in the history of French cinema. Beyond that, severe kidney stones make it impossible for her to bear children. In hopes of “the cure”, she is sent for treatment to a spa in the Alps (it’s the same spa from Paolo Sorrentino’s 2015 film YOUTH).

While at the spa, she meets handsome Andre (Louis Garrel), a gravely ill soldier from the Indochina War. Gabrielle imagines Andre to be everything she dreamt a lover should be (except for that whole sickness thing). The contrast between the two love-making sessions is startling, and it seems as though Gabrielle has found her bliss.

The years pass after her release from the spa, and Gabrielle makes one mistake after another … blind to what and who is right in front of her … while holding on to the dreamer’s dream. She is certainly not a likeable person, and is downright cruel to her loyal (and extremely quiet) husband Jose. However, Ms. Cotillard is such an accomplished actress that we somehow pull for Gabrielle to “snap out of it”.

The novel was adapted by Jacques Fieschi, Natalie Carter and director Garcia, and you’ll likely either be a fan or not, depending on your taste for old-fashioned melodrama. Despite numerous awkward moments, it’s beautifully photographed by cinematographer Christophe Beaucame. Additionally, the music plays a vital role here – both composer Daniel Pemberton’s use of the violin, and the duality of Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto that connects Gabrielle’s two worlds. You may say she’s a dreamer, but I hope she’s the only one.

watch the trailer:

 

 

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MY KING (Mon roi, France, 2016)

September 8, 2016

my-king Greetings again from the darkness. We have all had that friend who falls head over heels for someone we know is not good for them. If we are a dutiful friend, we make every effort possible to open their eyes before it’s too late. Sometimes they are simply too far gone to listen … and what follows is a roller-coaster of emotions, or even an outright train wreck. Writer/director (and sometimes actress) Maiwenn, who was once married to director Luc Besson, finds much to examine in the roller-coaster relationship of Georgio and Marie/Tony.

The story is viewed through the eyes (and recollections) of Marie/Tony played with exuberance by Emmanuelle Bercot. After a skiing “accident”, Tony goes to a rehabilitation center to receive post-surgery treatment. While her knee is healing, she also spends her time self-analyzing a tumultuous and destructive relationship with her ex Georgio (Vincent Cassel). It’s easy to see the parallels for her learning to walk again, while also learning to live again.

Tony is a successful criminal attorney and self-described “normal” woman. She falls hard for the exciting Georgio, a life-of-the-party type. Tony’s brother Solal (Louis Garrel) and Georgio’s suicidal ex Agnes (Chrystele Saint Louis Augustin) are both against this relationship, but it’s challenging to stop the love bug when it hits this hard. The film acts as a blueprint of how relationships and falling in love can start strong, build to a crescendo, and then crash and burn.

Georgio has many childlike characteristics. He is fine when he gets his way, but explosive and manipulative at the drop of a hat. He is fully engaged in phase one which is filled with passion, lust, fun and excitement; however, once the everyday toil and maintenance of the relationship is required, his bi-polar personality becomes difficult to watch.

Addiction plays a key role here. Georgio is addicted to freedom, partying, and drugs; Tony is addicted to the excitement and passion that he delivers to her “normal” life. There are some cinematically rare “real life” scenes scattered throughout, and none better than the couple’s first time in bed, and a later dinner scene where Georgio’s charm and manipulation skills are on full display as he puts Tony in a no-win situation.

Vincent Cassel has joined Mads Mikkelsen on my short list of actors that I will watch regardless of the project. His screen presence is powerful and emotionally-driven, and here he generates both admiration and disgust at varying times. We understand why Tony is in a “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” mode. Emmanuelle Bercot (also a writer and director for other films) manages to cover the full spectrum of emotions during the film, and she takes us along for the self-reflection. We pull for her even as we question her sanity at times. Somehow we get it … he’s the king of jerks, but he’s her king. If only she had listened…

watch the trailer: