Greetings again from the darkness. Director Nicole Garcia (The Adversary, 2002) takes the best-selling novel from Milena Agus and harkens back to good old-fashioned movie melodrama – with a French twist. Of course, most any project is elevated with the beautiful and talented Marion Cotillard in the lead role. Few can suffer on screen as expertly as Ms. Cotillard, and she conveys that disquiet through most of this story.
What is love? You’d best not look to Gabrielle (Cotillard) for clarification. As a young woman, her search for love and sexual fulfillment follows the fantasies of the novels she reads (Wuthering Heights). Her corresponding inappropriate behavior teeters between delusion and hysteria. It’s the 1950’s in rural France, so her actions and attitude are not much appreciated, and her parents bribe Jose (Alex Brendemuhl), a local bricklayer, to marry Gabrielle. She is then given the choice of (an “arranged”) marriage or a mental institution.
As a romantic dreamer whose blurred reality expects love to mirror those romance novels, Gabrielle’s self-centeredness and failure to grasp reality results in a loveless marriage – and easily one of the most uncomfortable lovemaking scenes in the history of French cinema. Beyond that, severe kidney stones make it impossible for her to bear children. In hopes of “the cure”, she is sent for treatment to a spa in the Alps (it’s the same spa from Paolo Sorrentino’s 2015 film YOUTH).
While at the spa, she meets handsome Andre (Louis Garrel), a gravely ill soldier from the Indochina War. Gabrielle imagines Andre to be everything she dreamt a lover should be (except for that whole sickness thing). The contrast between the two love-making sessions is startling, and it seems as though Gabrielle has found her bliss.
The years pass after her release from the spa, and Gabrielle makes one mistake after another … blind to what and who is right in front of her … while holding on to the dreamer’s dream. She is certainly not a likeable person, and is downright cruel to her loyal (and extremely quiet) husband Jose. However, Ms. Cotillard is such an accomplished actress that we somehow pull for Gabrielle to “snap out of it”.
The novel was adapted by Jacques Fieschi, Natalie Carter and director Garcia, and you’ll likely either be a fan or not, depending on your taste for old-fashioned melodrama. Despite numerous awkward moments, it’s beautifully photographed by cinematographer Christophe Beaucame. Additionally, the music plays a vital role here – both composer Daniel Pemberton’s use of the violin, and the duality of Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto that connects Gabrielle’s two worlds. You may say she’s a dreamer, but I hope she’s the only one.