2016年12月12日 星期一

Mal de Pierre (From the land of the Moon) (迷情花月)

Love is a subject women are never tire of. They can never have enough of it. Otherwise, one  can't really explain why all through the years, the counters for "romantic fiction" are always placed on the ground floor of all multi-storeyed bookstores and in all ground floor bookstore, they are always placed very close to the entrance. Women live for love and some even die for love. There's nothing women will not do for "love. I'll leave it to the evolutionary psychologists, individual psychologist, Freudian analysts, sociologists and philosophers to work out why. But ever since Gustave Flaubert wrote Madame Bovary and Thomas Hardy wrote the Trumpet Major and others about women living in suffocatingly boring rural environment, whose leisure is consumed by reading fictive tales of "grand passion" with dashing soldiers in smart military uniforms or some other "romantic" or "heroic"  Byronic figures and whose sole ambition in life seems to engage themselves, at least once, in such "amorous adventure" before they consider their lives complete because for them, art trumps life and "reality": there is nothing they long for more than to be the subject of such an "art": the art of falling in love with the idea of "falling in love". Nicole Garcia's Mal de Pierre  (From the land of the Moon) (迷情花月), adapted from the novel Mal de Pietre by Italian novelist Milena Agus  after which the film is entitled, is the latest in the same lines.

The heroine of the film is Gabrielle Rabascal (expertly played by Marion Cotillard), a teenage country girl in southern France whose father is a successful lavender grower, takes a postal course on novels and literature from the local teacher but longs for a face to face contact with him and when she finally does, she pushes her face to within a few inches of his, looking into his eyes, instead of listening to what he's saying with her ears. When the film opens, we see her lifting her skirt and walking into the nearby river, until the water reaches her private parts, luxuriating in the tingling feeling the cold clear water evokes there. When the village engages in its traditional annual harvest party, she openly declares her love for her teacher although she knows that he's married with a pregnant wife. She is rejected, runs into the forest where she faints, is discovered, brought back home where she locks herself inside her own room for three days, not caring for any food. Then during the night, she lights up her room and stands naked before an  open window in front of the seasonal Spanish agricultural workers below for them to gaze at. Her mother discovers this and decides to marry her off to a plumber engaged to repair their estate's plumbing system, José Rabascal ( Alex Brendemühl), a Spaniard who escaped into France to dodge arrest by General Franco because he was a soldier for the Republic Army, someone whom she discovers, quite by accident, to be standing transfixed in the corridor outside of her daughter's room, listening to her playing Tchaikovsky's Barcarolle on her piano. She tells him point blank on the day of the marriage that she doesn't love him. He accepts because her severe and no-sense mother Adèle (Brigitte Roüan) promises to set him up as a building constractor. Despite the marriage, Gabrielle refuses to consummate it with him so that every Saturday, he had to go to nearby Toulon to satisfy his biological urges until one day, she dresses herself up as one of his whores and asks him to place 200 franc on the table. She lost the resulting baby because of a vaginal condition called "mal de pierres". Wanting to have a child, José drives her to a facility in Switzerland whom the local doctor recommends as being able to help in this kind of rare disease. 

There, during her 6 week-stay in that expensive facility, she catches a glimpse through the open bedroom door, of a melancholoy looking man sitting on a chair facing the door, André Sauvage,(Louis Garrel ) whom she later learns from one of the female hospital assistants from her part of France, Agostine (Aloïse Sauvage ), a French lieutenant who saw action in  the war in Vietnam, reading a book, and another time whilst he was sleeping, with a book on the cover of his blanket. We are then shown scenes of their closer encounter and eventually, some steamy action in bed and then the lieutenant being carried away by a military ambulance to Lyons and Gabrielle running after it like mad as it speeds away until she falls on the slope as the ambulance disappears. All the while her husband is watching her as she runs because that's also the day that she is declared by the expert doctors there to be fit to return home after the water therapy she received there and for her husband to drive her back.
When the film begins, we are shown Gabrielle being driven to Lyons by her husband José, together with their 14 year old son to Marc Rabascal (Victor Quilichini) to attend a piano competition for young pianist. On the way there, she suddenly asks José to stop the car and drops her there and that she will rejoin them later at the concert ahll and as always, José does so without asking any question. Then we are shown the flash backs to the time before her marriage with José, Then close to the end of the film, we are shown how when Gabrielle goes up to an address at street there, an address she discovered many years ago, when she slipped into Andre's bedroom while he was sleeping, and found when she opened the book lying on the bed cover over his sleeping body, written on the fly leaf of the book that André was reading before he dosed off: Alain (Émile Chartier) (1868-1951) 's Propos sur le bonheur (Words About Happiness). She finds the name of André Sauvage and goes up only to be told by Blaise (Jihwan Kim  ), André's military orderly, that André was dead the day the military ambulance arrived at Lyons. She is devastated, walks to the side of the river, lost in thought and when she recovers and goes to the concert hall, the competition has ended. She asks how it went and was told that her son got the second prize. They return home, where she opens a suitcase stored in the attic, containing all the the stuffs she took away from that Swiss medical facility the day that both she and André left it  André to Lyons and she home. Since then she has been writing to him love letters to which she never got any reply.

When she opens that suitcase, we discover a photo of herself sitting on the arm of an empty chair!  But previously we see her on that photo with André sitting there, smiling.It's probable that the image on the screen where she is told by André's military orderly also never really happened and that everything is a fiction of her imagination.  She is finally cured of her 20 year romantic fantasy. Probably, that passionate love affair happened nowhere except in her imagination! And when she finally told her devoted husband what happened in Lyons and about her encounter with André, her husband showed her a bundle of returned letters and that he met him at the terrace and shared a cigarette, when André told him if the situation had been otherwise, he might probably approach that pretty woman, then through the windows opening on to the terrace, sitting alone inside the reception hall. That woman was Gabrielle.

When the film ends, we see Gabrielle and André, on the hill overlooking the village where José had built a very beautiful house for her, including therein a piano through which she prevailed upon Marc to learn to play Tchaikovsky's Barcarolle, which she heard André playing at the Swiss medical facility, the same piece upon which his got his second prize. She asks José whether he can tell which one of those rows of white Mediterranean seaside houses in the village is theirs. A surprising ending indeed.

It  is a most unusual film shot beautifully, acted with a great deal of credibility by Marion Cotillard,
Alex Brendemühl and Louis Garrel, aided no doubt by wonderfully controlled music specially composed for this film by Daniel Pemberton. A great story about a romance that never happened.