Unrequited Female Sexuality in ‘From the Land of the Moon’

Perth’s Alliance Française French Film Festival opens 15 March with an ambitious programme of 45 films offering a multifaceted exploration of French movie-making. For the Francophiles among us, cinematic aficionados and the rest, the Festival showcases a vast array of genres.

Nicole Garcia’s From the Land of the Moon adds an existential period-piece hybrid to this mix. Based on Melena Agus’ Italian novel of the same name, it follows the tragic story of Gabrielle (Marion Cotillard,) a farmer’s daughter from rural France in 1943, married off to a Spanish man Jose (Alex Brendemuhl) out of convenience and her consequential longing to find ‘true love.’

Whilst such a plot reads like many other period piece dramas where women’s malady is defined by her lack of, or longing for ‘love,’ this film’s exploration of female sexuality is quite an anomaly. Gabrielle’s status as an ‘outsider’ in her town is as much defined by her search for sexual fulfilment. After her infatuation with a married teacher ends in a dramatic, public, expression of her passionate desires, her family ensures she is taken care of by Jose before her assertive, sexualised behaviour, deems her un-marriable.

This marriage of convenience similarly leaves Gabrielle unsatisfied. Without love for her husband, and any sense of sexual fulfilment, her longing is immortalised in a painful bout of kidney stones and stay at a Swiss spa for a cure. Such a ‘cure’ comes in the form of an injured, intelligent, and tormented French soldier André (Louis Garrel) and the promise of love and intimacy he represents.

True to form, captivating Cotillard is all consuming. Her luminous performance allows an ‘erratic,’ romantic, and tragic character like Gabrielle to transgress to the audience.

Yet the complexity and engagement of Cotillard’s portrayal cannot escape the fact that her character remains quite unlikable. Whilst the audience will tend to sympathise with her plight, her intense romanticism, and constant blunt coldness towards Jose makes it difficult to maintain that connection.

In my cinematic experience, at least, this lack of audience investment in character culminated in laughter when the film’s depressing plot-twist is revealed. Whilst the twist did seem a little hollow, it was the missing connection that welcomed laughter at Gabrielle’s emotional expense.

From the Land of the Moon adds a pivotal character study of overt female sexuality to the mass collections of period dramas that explore notions of merely longing for love. Yet, despite exceptional acting, flawed character development ensures the audience cannot truly sympathise with such a plight.

3.5 out of 5 stars