Cannes 2016: Female Desire Tamed in Nicole Garcia's 'From the Land of the Moon'

Marion Cotillard could not be more beautiful. In Nicole Garcia's From the Land of the Moon she plays a sensuous adolescent with furious sexual desires: longings so intense that she sweeps her voluminous breasts over her schoolteacher's desk to tempt him. At night "Gabrielle" licks words in a book that the teacher has written. At several points in the movie, she runs through fields and forests in delirious passion.

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She is a very likable character, at least at first. We can empathize with her untoward desires and her frank expression of what she wants. What is particularly exciting is that the camera takes her point of view. When Gabrielle does--eventually--experience the passion of her dreams with a man she loves, the camera focuses on the flesh of the male, his chest, his hands, his caresses.

Yet Gabrielle, like previous heroines of great passion, is unorthodox for society, and is punished for her urges. Her punishment is marriage. The alternative is incarceration.

Even married, however, she is a beast in a cage.

It is a pleasure to watch this movie, mostly for the fascinating elliptical beauty of Marion Cotillard. As director Nicole Garcia told us in the press conference: "I picked Marion because her body speaks. She is the geography of this film: she is the Alps, the fields. I was looking for someone who can render sensuality and brutality." Marion commented that she identified with her character's need to "spread her wings in freedom."

Yet whatever innovative--and dare I say 'feminist'--twists on female desire Garcia achieved in the early scenes is nullified by the second half of the film. Here the rebellious Gabrielle "evolves". She becomes a woman. No longer is she the sexual wild wench consumed with her own desires. She goes from "nature" to 'ethics." While this movie is a step up from films and books that demonize female desire, it does not let that desire hold center stage for long.

"Yes, education is what happens," agreed co-scriptwriter Jacques Fieschi.

In taking this angle, the movie departs from the original novel on which the film is based. In Milena Agus' novel, desire remains painful. It is never tamed. Instead, what we have here is an update of The Taming of the Shrew, or--to cite the director's own (alarming) reference in the press conference ---The Story of O . The woman, she pointed out, is "educated in love."

We may be happy that Gabrielle finally grows up. It is a relief actually that she learns to embrace higher values than her own body. And throughout, Marion Cotillard gives a stunning performance. But it is a film that is sure to please more of a conventional audience--the kind for whom the Cinderella marriage to the prince is inherently a happy ending--than the critical spectator.