For their screen adaptation of Ghost World, Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff invented a fake arthouse movie with a hilariously ludicrous title: The Flower That Drank The Moon. Maybe that was rattling around in the subconscious of whoever was charged with coming up with an English-language title for Mal De Pierres, a new French melodrama starring Marion Cotillard. The original title is the French phrase for kidney stones, which play a role in the narrative, but which someone apparently deemed insufficiently alluring for U.S. audiences. (To be fair, the French don’t include the word “kidney” in their phrase, which means “evil of stones.”) Instead, we’re getting this film as From The Land Of The Moon—a title that’s somehow at once generic and nonsensical, and seems vaguely meant to suggest a flight of fancy, or something. Fair enough, as the target audience is people who believe that romantic obsession founded upon nothing whatsoever, single-mindedly and self-destructively pursued, indicates an admirably passionate spirit and not, you know, a lunatic.
The moonstruck individual in question is Gabrielle (Cotillard), who’s introduced accompanying her husband, José (Àlex Brendemühl), and teenage son, Marc (Victor Quilichini), to the latter’s piano recital in Lyon. When Gabrielle suddenly sees something through the car window and heads off on her own, the film shifts into flashback mode, jumping back to her impetuous youth (though she’s still played by the 41-year-old Cotillard). As it turns out, her marriage to José was arranged by her mother (Brigitte Roüan), who literally grabbed the first eligible guy she found on the street and said, in essence, “Hey, Gab, it’s either this dude or the loony bin—your choice.” That was necessary because Gabrielle had already become dangerously fixated on one of her teachers, physically assaulting him when he turned her down. José, alas, doesn’t trigger Gabrielle’s love-at-first-sight reflex, and she subsequently locks her ardent tractor beam onto André (Louis Garrel), a fellow patient at a convalescent home in the Alps, where Gabrielle is being treated for the aforementioned kidney stones. André plays the piano, just as Marc now does. Given that Gabrielle and José almost never have sex, could André perhaps be the boy’s real father?
This question has a sensible answer in From The Land Of The Moon’s source material, an Italian novella by Milena Agus (titled Mal Di Pietre, after the Italian phrase for kidney stones). That aspect of the literary version doesn’t translate easily to the screen, though, so director Nicole Garcia (The Adversary, Charlie Says) and her co-screenwriter, Jacques Fieschi, came up with a truly dopey alternative—one that makes Gabrielle seem even more certifiably deranged. No small feat, that, since this woman is defined exclusively in the film by erotomania. She has no job, no friends, no hobbies, no interests—she doesn’t even seem to especially like her child. All she does is get obsessed with unavailable men and construct vivid mental fantasies around them. Cotillard tries hard to fashion a credible human being from this collection of shallow adolescent impulses, but the movie infantilizes Gabrielle at every turn. Were From The Land Of The Moon a disturbing case study of a romantic sociopath, that’d be potentially interesting. But that hypothetical movie wouldn’t likely be called From The Land Of The Moon, and it wouldn’t conclude on a cozy, upbeat note that encourages viewers to celebrate a ruinously delusional notion of “true love.”