Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Oct 19, 2016 10:19 am 
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Magic Mountains

"Gabrielle (Marion Cotillard) comes from a small village in the South of France, at a time when her dream of true love is considered scandalous, and even a sign of insanity. Her parents marry her to José (Alex Brendemühl), an honest and loving Spanish farm worker who they think will make a respectable woman of her. Despite José's devotion to her, Gabrielle vows that she will never love José and lives like a prisoner bound by the constraints of conventional post-World War II society until the day she is sent away to a cure in the Alps to heal her kidney stones. There she meets André Sauvage (Louis Garrel), a dashing injured veteran of the Indochinese War, who rekindles the passion buried inside her. She promises they will run away together, and André seems to share her desire. Will anyone dare rob her of her right to follow her dreams?"

That's an IMDb plot summary for this new film by Nicole Garcia, which opened in France today, 12 Oct. 2016. It's nice to see Marion Cotillard looking beautiful and being full-on passionate again after her unflattering role in Xavier Dolan's tiresome It's Only the End of the World. It's also enjoyable the way Nicole Garcia likes to take us for a wild ride, as she did in her pleasingly mysterious - and more contained and interesting - 2013 Un beau dimanche/Going Away. And this is terribly romantic. Having Marion Cotillard and Louis Garrel fall in love in a Swiss sanatorium provides an exotic new dose of French movie glamor.

Adapted by the Strega-prize wining novella by the Sardinian writer Milena Agus, this is like Nicolas Sparks in French, on acid. It transfers events from Italy to France, and considerably simplifies the plot. Set in the post-war period, it focuses on an eccentric, strong-willed and sensuous woman who's put in an arranged marriage with a Spanish man when she's over thirty. Both swear they will never love each other. The husband is allowed to see prostitutes but his wife Gabrielle starts taking the prostitute's role to save them money. They try to have a child but her painful kidney stones cause repeated miscarriages. Her husband sends her to the cure in the mountains so she can have a baby, and she does. You think you know exactly where things are going, because there is a frame tale, and a very long flashback, so we know what's up with Gabrielle in the present, so when we see her finally meet Louis Garrel's dreamily ill French army officer back from Vietnam at the mountain water cure resort, and he plays Tchaikovsky's "Barcarole" so beautifully on the piano, we think we know what's going to happen.

The plot pitches us a couple of curves that feel unconvincing. The movie explanation is less convincing than the novella's, and and also winds up confusing the ongoing issue of whether Gabrielle is crazy or not. Once we get to the mountains, there are some very nice scenes and the watered-down "Magic Mountain" sequences are engaging. Cotillard and Garrel and even the underappreciated Brendemühl get to do some nice work - that doesn't, however, quite work.

A lot of the early stuff is unnecessary. It should not take so long to show Gabrielle is unhappily married, and is looking for a great love. In all the establishing scenes one feels one is being force-fed; in the mountain "cure" ones, that one is being offered a cartload of sweet pastries. Screen International calls this "an old-fashioned romantic weepie," but it pitches too many curves to provide that kind of simple satisfaction.

Mal de pierres (Stone Sickness; but English title is From the Land of the Moon), 120 mins. debuted at Cannes May 2016, four other festivals; French theatrical release 19 Oct. 2016. Again a film well received by French critics (AlloCine press rating 3.6) that English critics have little use for (Metacritic score 42%). Screened for this review at UGC Odéon Paris on 19 Oct. 2016.


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