French actress Marion Cotillard has been a fascinating cinematic presence since she first captured the attention of American filmgoers with her Oscar-winning performance as Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose in 2007. Since then, she has played a variety of emotionally resonant (and often slightly disturbed) roles in Inception, Midnight in Paris, Rust and Bone, Two Days, One Night, and even The Dark Knight Rises. Her greatest acting gift is her amazingly expressive face, which can be simultaneous deeply brooding yet luminous.
Director Nicole Garcia understands how to use Cotillard to her advantage in From the Land of the Moon (Mal de Pierres), and does so with a vengeance. Much of the footage in this melancholic film focuses on Cotillard: her face, her profile, even her back walking away from the camera. And we watch, fully absorbed. Unfortunately, there is not much more to this film than the 42-year-old actress.
Set in rural France in the 1950s, From the Land of the Moon tells the story of Gabrielle, a passionate, unstable woman struggling against the expectations of her family and of society. Forced into a marriage of convenience, she suffers both emotionally and physically until she is sent to a medical spa to be treated for kidney stones. There she meets a convalescing military officer, and a new world of love and desire open up for her. Of course, this being a film, that doesn’t mean life will become easier.
Overall, From the Land of the Moon feels drawn-out, even ponderous. And I couldn’t stop thinking that I had seen it before. That said, there are certainly worse ways to spend two hours than watching Marion Cotillard’s lovely, anguished face.
Also at Theatre N in September: The Trip to Spain, the latest culinary travelogue with British comics Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (9/1, 9/8 weekends); The Journey, a fictional account of the Irish conflict focusing on leaders from either side, featuring Timothy Spall and Colm Meaney (9/22 weekend).