a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Marion Cotillard’s New Film Mesmerizes at the Rendez-vous Avec French Cinema  by Stephen Holt

What an unalloyed pleasure to have a brand new film starring one of the greatest screen actresses. I saw it this past March.It is none other than Marion Cotillard, at the always enthralling “Rendez-vous with French Cinema.” This was its 22nd delightful year at Lincoln Center. It ran through March 12. And Marion didn’t disappoint. It’s Opening state-side in July.

I have always felt deeply her acuity in choosing the best-written roles in French cinema (and beyond) no matter how challenging. And she’s has done so again with the oddly titled “From the Land of the Moon.” Based on an Italian novel called “Mal de Pierres.” The original book is based in Sardinia, adapted into French and evidently”totally transformed from its’ source,” director (and sometime actress) Nicole Garcia who was present herself at the Rendez-vous, said. She told an enthusiastic audience of cinephiles and Francophiles of how this rather astounding role was created with Marion Cotillard in mind and she worked with her on shaping it, as well.

Nicole Garcia said she hated the title “From the Land of the Moon.” “I don’t know what it means. I was just stuck with it.” “Mal de Pierres” means Kidney Stones in French, and it’s kind of a shock to find out that that might be what Cotillard’s character of Gabrielle is suffering from. And does she suffer!

But only a great actress like Cotillard could portray all the levels and innuendos and shades of pain and illness that Gabrielle goes through and make it riveting,moving, monumental. I have rarely seen so a complex role like this for an actress written anywhere. And in a way, only the French could have given us this beautiful performance in this astounding film.

Filmmaker Garcia takes you inside Cotillard’s head. This film is shot in many, many intense close-ups of Cotillard’s great film face, one of the greatest of all time, I would wager, and we see inside this tortured woman’s soul. Her eyes! Oh those eyes! You just disappear into them, as they register every emotion imaginable and you marvel as they seem to shift from gray to green and every color in between, as Cotillard’s Gabrielle suffers unspecified maladies of the heart and of the body.

Most of the film takes place in a Swiss sanitarium where Gabrielle is sent to recover from whatever it is that is making her so unwell. The time is the early 1950’s. And she does recover there, and begins to develop as the French say, an “Amour fou”, certainly a grand passion, for a dashing French lieutenant Andre( the beguiling Louis Garrel), who we discover is terminally ill. And as ready and desperately starved for romance as Gabrielle is.

Dare I say it, but their naked love scenes are more erotic than anything Cotillard recently essayed with Brad Pitt in “Allied,” another War time romance?.And your heart just breaks for the both of them.

The film seems to be saying that women are always meant to suffer inexplicably and love can cure sometimes, but…

Ah! But thereby hangs the denouement of “From the Land of the Moon” and I won’t spoil its’ surprise here.

Would Oscar get just what a feat of acting (and writing and directing) this film is? Would most Americans? I know all the women who saw it at the Rendez-vous experienced it on a very profound level. As did I. It was utterly transformative. I was at sixes and sevens when I went in, and came out walking on air, and not noticing the sub-zero weather and the wicked wind that put the temperature on W.60th Street  as minus- something. I waited and waited for the NYC bus to come, and didn’t feel anything except the joy that Marion Cotillard’s magnificent performance brought to me.

Or would it just be chalked up as “a Women’s movie”?Just as something only the French could do, or embrace. But I’m telling you, Marion Cotillard in “From the Land of the Moon” is beautiful beyond words. Whether it gets an Oscar nomination or not, it’s going to remembered as one of her very best performances. Said director Nicole Garcia, “I think this is the best she’s ever been.”

There are many other films that I want to talk about at the Rendez-vous but I’ll save them for later. Right now, just remember that odd title “From the Land of the Moon.”

Opening soon in July.

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