Gathering lavender

Nicole Garcia on Marion Cotillard, Catherine Leterrier, François Ozon and From The Land Of The Moon

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Nicole Garcia on Marion Cotillard:
Nicole Garcia on Marion Cotillard: "I find her very spontaneous and very unpredictable in this movie."

Tonight, Marion Cotillard is walking the Cannes Film Festival opening night red carpet for Arnaud Desplechin's Ismael’s Ghosts (Les Fantômes D'Ismaël), in which she stars with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Mathieu Amalric (who stars in his own film Barbara with Jeanne Balibar and Lisa Ray-Jacobs in the Directors' Fortnight program).

In my conversation with From The Land Of The Moon (Mal De Pierres) director Nicole Garcia she reveals how Marion Cotillard works on her character, explains the choices from costume designer Catherine Leterrier (Danièle Thompson's Cézanne Et Moi and Benoît Jacquot's 3 Coeurs), and shares the advice from Frantz director François Ozon on choosing a foreign language film title.

Nicole Garcia on the novel by Milena Agus:
Nicole Garcia on the novel by Milena Agus: "I talked to Marion Cotillard about the book years ago." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In Nicole Garcia's From The Land Of The Moon, co-written with Jacques Fieschi, based on the novel by Milena Agus, Gabrielle (Cotillard) lives with her parents and sister in the 1950s post-war French countryside. She is married off to José, played by Alex Brendemühl, a Catalan guest worker, there to help harvest lavender. The dynamics work well precisely because we are not in on it, rather left out just as much as they are from each other.

The Magic Mountain encounter with Indochina veteran André Sauvage (Louis Garrel) at a clinic in Switzerland where she is being treated for Stone Sickness changes everything, while staying true to what we already know about Gabrielle's force of imagination.

Anne-Katrin Titze: There is a scene that I really like visually that has to do with the costumes. Right after Gabrielle is asking José "So what do you do with the prostitutes?" What Marion Cotillard is wearing in that scene - the underwear, the housecoat over it, the lipstick - she looks terrific.

It is at the same time improvised, sexy and also like a little child playing dress-up with her mother's clothes. It's an attempt to reclaim herself and her sexuality at that moment. It's a wonderful scene with a lot going on internally.

"So this is a first sign of her imagination which then takes on a whole new level in the rest of the movie."

Nicole Garcia: Yes. There we see her imagination at play. She didn't want to perform their conjugal act as such. So she comes up with a trick where she wears a disguise, a disguise of a Toulon prostitute so that she can manage to pull off that conjugal act that she didn't want to do as herself. By wearing a disguise she comes up with her own trick. So this is a first sign of her imagination which then takes on a whole new level in the rest of the movie. You don't think so?

AKT: I do.

NG: She asks questions. "So on Saturdays, you go to Toulon? What do you have these women do? How much do you pay?" She knows that she must arrive at this act. So she comes up with this. I'm a prostitute in Toulon, I am not myself. It's just a game. But she doesn't like it. And we see it very well on the face of Marion. She wants something at the same time very sexual and holy. When she sleeps with him, she doesn't play anymore. As if she were saying to herself "My life will be that?" We see her in her little robe on the street.

AKT: She is rejecting that life.

José (Alex Brendemühl), Gabrielle's husband
José (Alex Brendemühl), Gabrielle's husband

NG: The kidney stones, which is the sickness she had, are a way for her body to take over and to manifest the fact that she didn't want that kind of life that she was stuck in. There is a possibility to think that. And when she goes for the treatment, the stones end up being dissolved and in their place, there's love and there is a child. It's as if that disease were symptomatic. It's the French title, Stone Disease.

AKT: Let's talk about the title change. From The Land Of The Moon is the English title. You were not happy with it?

NG: No. François Ozon told me that he chooses the foreign titles. I didn't know! It was the title of the book. So people said, the book is very successful, so you have to take this title. It means nothing. The Land Of The Moon is what? It's to express it's a dream? I don't know. I don't like this title.

AKT: If you put both titles together, it's fine. The scene near the end, when they are going to Spain. That felt as though we are on the Moon.

NG: Ah, on the Moon?!

AKT: And there are other kinds of stones and rocks. As a combination, it's not so bad.

NG: Okay. Yes, yes.

André Sauvage (Louis Garrel) on the Magic Mountain:
André Sauvage (Louis Garrel) on the Magic Mountain: "Thomas Mann, yes, it's the real place! You recognized it?"

AKT: The picture that is taken - we find out in the film that taking pictures is not trustworthy. Don't trust photos, especially in a film!

NG: Ha!

AKT: Krzysztof Kieslowski in one of the Dekalogs has a photo change, too. We see a number of characters in a photo and in the end there miraculously is one more in the same picture.

NG: I like this reference. What movie of the Dekalog?

AKT: In Dekalog Four. The incest father/daughter story and it's the picture of the dead mother.

NG: You can't trust photographs.

AKT: The location of the cure in your film has a beautiful atmosphere. It's very much Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann.

NG: Thomas Mann, yes, it's the real place! You recognised it?

AKT: That's what I thought.

Gabrielle with José:
Gabrielle with José: "I am not myself. It's just a game. But she doesn't like it."

NG: You recognised it. Congratulations, yes. I was looking for a hospital for the cure in France. All the hospitals were renovated. But in Switzerland they were still the same. Magic Mountain.

AKT: How did you prepare with Marion Cotillard? Did you have detailed conversations or did you just say "go"? Here's the script, you know what you're doing?

NG: Not at all! I saw her very little. I talked to Marion Cotillard about the book years ago. Some time went by and the project didn't pan out. Then when the script was ready, I sent it to her. She was off to the US to do a movie, I don't remember which, she's done so many. When she committed to the project, I only saw her when we did the costume tests and the fittings and that's the longest time I spent with her - going over the costumes. After that all the work really was done on set.

AKT: What kind of ideas did you talk about?

NG: I couldn't really tell her, go off, do your thing because her idea was a lot less wild, a lot less brutal than my own idea. She imagined the character as more melancholic. And I didn't want to veer into melancholy at all. I find that together we did really interesting work. And I find her very spontaneous and very unpredictable in this movie.

"It's as if that disease were symptomatic."

AKT: I agree. I like the unpredictability very much. All of the characters have some of that, even the family, even her sister. Our position as audience is also that of seeing someone, not knowing who they are. The same way the couple don't really know each other. They don't know exactly what is going on in the other's head, and we don't either. We are half-blind looking at people. It keeps the tension.

NG: The tension, yes. I like this. I am happy with this reading. It's instinctive. The unpredictability indeed was for me the mark of the living. I find it moving when there wasn't any strategic line. They are not made hysterical. I find it more impressive when they keep a certain moral dignity, a certain restraint, even when they are at the cusp of their trouble.

AKT: Very true. They become larger than life because they are so much in life.

NG: They are not theoretical or intellectual, they're living life.

AKT: The suitcase that she doesn't unpack says something about time. And she has trouble with time. This little capsule in this suitcase is her attempt to keep time. For herself. Which is what cinema does, too.

"The kidney stones, which is the sickness she had, are a way for her body to take over …"

NG: That's true.

AKT: Costumes, objects, photographs.

NG: That's true. They are emblems of her imagination. You say it is like cinema?

AKT: Yes.

NG: I believe that for me cinema is connected to imagination. The imagination has the function of repairing the things that don't work in life. This is cinema for me and that's what imagination does for Gabrielle.

AKT: What is coming up next for you? What are you working on right now?

NG: During the six months it took before Marion was ready to do this one, I wrote another movie. So I'm ready. I actually have a problem right now, with an actress. I can't really say who, but it doesn't even matter. The thing is, that when I write, I am very elliptical in the way I am writing. I don't spell out the way I want the body to move. I just write the essential parts.

This actress, after reading the script likes it but feels that the character is too cold. I can't succeed in convincing her, making her see that all the internal life is going to come out on set in the actual body work that we do together. But she is silly, because she saw Mal De Pierres and she loved it very much.

"I find it more impressive when they keep a certain moral dignity, a certain restraint, even when they are at the cusp of their trouble."

AKT: We'll convince her with this feature - Whoever you are! You have to do this! This is real cinema! - I will include this appeal in our conversation.

NC: Thank you. I love your interpretation of the film!

Read what Nicole Garcia had to say on rebellion, desire, Alex Brendemühl, producer Alain Attal's role with the novel by Milena Agus, and unconditional love.

From The Land Of The Moon (Mal De Pierres), a highlight of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York, opens in the UK on June 23 and in the US on July 28.

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