Correction: A previous version of this review incorrectly identified Louis Garrel’s character, a veteran of the Indochina War, as a veteran of World War II. This version has been updated.
Lately, Marion Cotillard has become a go-to actress for handsome-looking melodrama. It’s easy to get lost in her mahogany eyes, and her off-kilter screen presence suggests raw emotion, even madness. “From the Land of the Moon” features a typical Cotillard performance, yet the romance, from French actress and filmmaker Nicole Garcia, manages to convey neither triumph nor tragedy. Adapting a 2006 novella by Milena Agus, the director and co-writer runs into a problem all too familiar to those who attempt to translate books — especially ones that focus on a character’s inner life — to the screen: The emotional drama doesn’t reach its intended heights.
Cotillard plays Gabrielle, a woman who seems destined to live alone. Moody and hostile, she suffers from persistent cramps that unsettle those around her. Gabrielle’s frustrated and desperate mother (Brigitte Roüan) arranges a marriage of convenience with a farmworker named José (Alex Brendemühl). Although she resents the arrangement, announcing she will never love José, Gabrielle consents.
But when her cramps get worse — a doctor diagnoses persistent kidney stones — she heads to a spa to convalesce. It is here that most of the film takes place and where Gabrielle falls for a dour veteran of the Indochina War named André (Louis Garrel).
Garcia struggles to evoke what’s going on in Gabrielle’s head — including secret sexual desires — cinematically. (There’s a little voice-over.) Cotillard moans a lot, but whether her character is in pain or the throes of lustful fantasy is unclear. If it’s the latter, it’s not particularly erotic, leading to odd moments when the apparent depth of feeling does not correspond to what we see.
One thing the filmmaker does know how to do is set up a beautiful shot. Gabrielle steps out of the shadows near a doorway at one point, with light bathing her profile. It’s as if she’ll be caught in that door frame forever, in an inversion of the closing scene of “The Searchers.” But such moments of visual beauty only call attention to the stilted dialogue and maudlin plot that otherwise define the film. “From the Land of the Moon” ends with a twist that feels like it would have worked better as a literary metaphor than a literal one. Ultimately, viewers might regard Gabrielle as others in the film do: with a sense of resigned curiosity veering toward mild annoyance.
R. At Landmark’s West End Cinema. Contains nudity and sexual situations. In French with subtitles. 116 minutes.