French Rendez-Vous 2017: Marion Cotillard in “From the Land of the Moon”

“From the Land of the Moon” (“Mal de Pierres”) was the best selection I saw at the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series in New York City. In the film, Marion Cotillard gives a masterful performance as an extremely romantic woman with thwarted longings.

This film is impressively directed by Nicole Garcia who has acted in several films like the classic “Mon Oncle d’Amerique” (1980) and “La Petite Lili” (2003).

Gabrielle (Cotillard) is driving with her husband and son to an event where her son will perform at a piano competition. Gabrielle suddenly recognizes an address their car passes, and suddenly gets out. The film flashes back to a younger Gabrielle In 1950’s rural France.

Marion Cotillard and Àlex Brendemühl in “From the Land of the Moon”

Cotillard gives Gabrielle a passionate intensity, making for a gripping film. Gabrielle remains unfulfilled. Her mother (Brigitte Roüan) says her daughter has her “head in the clouds”. After an improper attraction from Gabrielle, her mother arranges a marriage with José (Àlex Brendemühl), a worker on the family farm. The marriage is described as “bought you off”. Gabrielle looks dazed after the wedding ceremony.

The screenplay, co-written by Garcia, develops sympathy for José as he tries vainly to understand or relate to his wife.

Gabrielle visits Switzerland for a rest cure. She becomes intensely drawn to Lieutenant André Sauvage (Louis Garrrel, “The Dreamers” (2003)), a sensitive veteran also in the sanatorium for care. He plays the piano. Marion’s developing relationship with André brings a fulfillment that has been lacking in her life. Andre will continue to dominate her life. The screenplay takes some unexpected twists.

Marion Cotillard in “From the Land of the Moon”

The photogenic scenery of Switzerland, emphasizes the healing aspects of the location. Director Nicole Garcia effectively builds tension from the raw emotion of Cotillard’s portrayal. Garcia also elicits fine performances from her supporting cast. Garcia’s other films as director have had notable performances. Her “Place Vendôme” (1998) contained one of Catherine Deneuve’s best.

After the film screening, Nicole Garcia discussed “From the Land of the Moon”. She said that the film is a free adaptation of a book by an Italian novelist set in Sardinia. She added that the subject “fit my manner”.

Nicole Garcia at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

Garcia described the main character as “a woman who wants what everyone denies her”. She said that Marion Cotillard is “one of the very best”, and the “best” actress for the part, which is “particular to what she does”. She added that Cotillard brings something “unpredictable” to her characterization. Garcia described the casting as a “great actor” in a “great role.” She added that the strongest roles are ”roles that reveal as we go along.”

Garcia added that she wants “characters to be unpredictable” and that as a director, it is “nearly a duty to forget the script and invent something else.”

Garcia said that some people may see the pain Gabrielle puts her husband through, and “may dislike her, I hope not.”

Nicole Garcia at Rendez-Vous with French Cinema

Her background as an actor is the “strongest” thing that Garcia believes she brings to directing, to “show actors” aspects of their characters, adding “I don’t tell (them) how to say” the dialog.

When asked to explain the title of her film, Garcia declined, adding that unlike her colleague director Francois Ozon (“Frantz”)  who told her he has approval of foreign titles of his films, she “inherited” the title. She added that a critic told her the landscape in the final scene “looks like the desert, like the moon.”


Telluride 43: Two views of Paris

The Telluride Film Festival screened 2 selections with very different views of Paris. “Frantz”, directed and co-written by Francois Ozon (“Swimming Pool”, “Potiche”) is a very impressive and absorbing film about grief in Post-WWI Europe. The black & white photography emphasizes the somber mood of continual mourning and devastation.

In a small German town, Anna (Paula Beer) makes repeated visits to the grave of Frantz, her fiance killed in the War. One day, she sees Adrien (Pierre Niney), a young Frenchman, tearfully leaving flowers at her fiance’s grave. He tells her he had been close friends in Paris with Frantz before the war.

Paula Beer in “Frantz”

In the town, Adrien faces post-war hostility toward the victorious French. Anna invites him home to meet the parents (Marie Gruber, Ernst Stotzner) of her late fiance with whom she lives. His stories of his time in Paris with Frantz are a deep comfort for his survivors. Intriguingly, Adrien’s reminiscences of Frantz (Anton von Lucke), are in color reflecting a period of deep happiness and a more intense time than the present. One of these flashbacks is set among the art of the Louvre.

Francois Ozon gives the film a deep sensitivity to the human tragedy of war enhanced by the moving performances of the lead actors.

Pierre Niney and Paula Beer in “Frantz”

After Adrien returns home, Anna eventually travels to France to look for him and she discovers new details of Frantz’s relationship with Adrien. Scenes of Anna in Paris are in color, signifying a lively and vital place of new possibilities.

In the very different comedy, “Lost in Paris”, the city becomes a location for some bizarrely humorous adventures. Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel are actors, writers and directors (“The Fairy”). Fiona (Gordon), a librarian, leaves her home in Canada to find out what has happened to her aged aunt in Paris.

Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel at Telluride

Fiona undergoes severe mishaps after arriving in Paris. This film becomes a series of clever comedic sequences staged with visual flair. Fiona’s belongings fall into the Seine and end up with Dom (Abel), a homeless man who teams up with Fiona.

Fiona’s eccentric aunt is portrayed by Emmanuelle Riva, in one of her last film performances. Riva has received acclaim in films from “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959) to her Oscar-nominated performances in “Amour” (2012). Riva is a delight and part of a uniquely memorable musical number with comic star Pierre Richard.

Pierre Richard and Emmanuelle Riva in “Lost in Paris”

Fiona’s adventures lead throughout Paris, including Pere Lachaise Cemetery and a terrific climax on the Eiffel Tower.

French Rendez-Vous 2013: “In the House”

The Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York City screened “In the House”, one of the year’s most intriguing films. Director Francois Ozon (“Potiche”) also wrote the screenplay, inspired by a Spanish play “The Boy in the Last Row”.

In a pilot school in which students wear uniforms, writing instructor Germain (Fabrice Luchini, “Potiche”) compares the students to a “barbarian invasion” into his classroom. He finds an exception in Claude (Ernst Umhauer). After reading Claude’s class assignments Germain believes Claude has a gift for writing.

Claude (Ernst Umhauer) and the family (Denis Menochet, (Emmanuelle Seigner,  Bastien Ughetto)

Claude (Ernst Umhauer) and the family (Denis Menochet, Emmanuelle Seigner, Bastien Ughetto)

With an alcoholic father, Claude’s tells of his attempt to insinuate himself into a “typical” French family by befriending and tutoring a classmate Rapha (Bastien Ughetto). Claude becomes attracted to Rapha’s mother Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner, “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly”), describing her “singular scent of a middle class woman”.

Believing Claude is a rare talent, Germain, whose own published book was a failure, wants to encourage his student’s writing. Germain is willing to break serious rules at school to continue Claude’s schemes to get even closer to Rapha’s family.

Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas)

Germain (Fabrice Luchini) and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas)

Germain confides his interest in Claude’s writing to his increasingly bemused wife Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas, “The English Patient”). Luchini and Scott Thomas have an easy rapport. Jeanne has her own problems as she is trying to keep an avant-garde art gallery from closing.

Fiction and reality begin to merge as Germain and Claude’s plans start to unravel. Music similar to the scores of Hitchcock films emphasizes the tension. Ozon said that he made reference to a theatrical device used by Ingmar Bergman in “Wild Strawberries” and often by Woody Allen to have Germain make concrete intrusions into Claude’s fiction.

Germain (Fabrice Luchini), Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Claude (Ernst Umhauer)

Germain (Fabrice Luchini), Esther (Emmanuelle Seigner) and Claude (Ernst Umhauer)

Imaginatively constructed, “In the House” is riveting. Ozon’s screenplay skillfully delineates a variety of characters taken into directions they do not expect. As in his earlier films like “Under the Sand” and “8 Women”, director Ozon is proficient at building strong performances from his actors. Luchini is particularly impressive as Germain moves from confidence to loss of control.

Francois Ozon at the Rendez-Vous

Francois Ozon at the Rendez-Vous

After the screening, Franciois Ozon described the familiar-looking suburban setting of Rapha’s family as a result of the “invasion of America” into French life. He called his film “cynical and ironic” and set off by Claude’s “looking for his place” and the evolution of his vision.

Ozon said his influences on the film were the unlikely combination of Michael Haneke (“Amour”) and Woody Allen. He said he didn’t think of Hitchcock for the final scene even though audience members were reminded of one of Hitchcock’s most famous films.