Gabrielle comes from a small village in the South of France, at a time when her dream of true love is considered scandalous, and even a sign of insanity. Her parents marry her to José, an honest and loving Spanish farm worker who they think will make a respectable woman of her. Despite José's devotion to her, she vows that she will never love José and lives like a prisoner bound by the constraints of conventional post-World War II society until the day she is sent away to a cure in the Alps to heal her kidney stones. There she meets André Sauvage, a dashing injured veteran of the Indochinese War, who rekindles the passion buried inside her. She promises they will run away together, and he seems to share her desire. Will anyone dare rob her of her right to follow her dreams?

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Correct me if I'm wrong. This could be the first major film in which a grand passion starts with kidney stones. (Full disclosure: None of my three episodes went that way — but then none were spent at a posh French rural spa. Mind, one was in Paris.) The original French title is more revealing: The Sickness of the Stone. The film is about the affliction of stoniness — but that of the heart (turn left at the kidney). The central characters suffer from different forms of this inability to feel and to express true emotion. The central case is Gabrielle, who didn't learn emotions or their expression from her cold, practical mother. But her dull rural life nourished a rich hunger for fantasy, especially of the romantic persuasion. So powerful is her imaginative drive that it prevents her development of a real-life love. The English title — From the Land of the Moon — refers to her preference of her dream-world over reality in human connection. She is a moony dreamer, a "lunatic" in that original sense. Her first case is her schoolgirl crush on her literature tutor. She's so in love with the idea of being in love that — with no encouragement — she imagines a full-blown passion with that happily married older man. Her madness scares her mother into marrying her off to a Spanish bricklayer Jose. Gabrielle vows never to love him. He doesn't love her at the start of their marriage. Whether out of curiosity or good housekeeping, she eventually agrees to give him sex for what he would pay the prostitute. Then the kidney stones kick in. What begins as periodic cramps eventually causes a miscarriage. At Jose's insistence she retreats for treatment to a lavish country spa. There she continues her compulsive isolation — save her connection to a serving girl — until she meets and falls for Andre Sauvage. He lost a kidney in the Indochina war and suffers pained and drugged in his room alone. As his surname suggests, their eruptive passion does an end-around on the niceties of civilization and the sacrament of marriage. Or does it? A key scene in Gabrielle's imagined life plays out so persuasive that Jose's eventual revelation brings her — and us — thudding back to reality. Her men provide a key contrast in the theme of stoniness. Dream-man Andre (quite literally, at that) comes across as a man off intense emotion. But the wear has paralyzed him emotionally, rendering him unable to respond to the woman he might have loved "in another lifetime." In the spa for his missing kidney, Andre is another victim of emotional stoniness. From his experience in the Spanish civil war Jose suffered deracination, not as serious as the renal ruin but significant. It leaves him silent, withdrawn, private. His inexpressiveness seems healthy compared to his wife's florid fantasy. Unlike Andre, he can fully respond to Gabrielle, coming to love her through their shared life and even her suffering. He shows gallantry when he first walks away from her initial rejection. When he learns of her love for Andre, he respects her enough to allow her illusion to sustain her. Jose's reticent manner may suggest a coldness but he's the healthiest character in the film. He is a man of feeling not flash. Thanks to his practical engagement with the world and his growing emotional commitment, he ultimately gives Gabrielle the chance to find fulfilment here on earth. The last shot has them looking down on his village, his house, emphasizing her shift away from the moon. Indeed, Jose's character promises to sustain that marriage even better than the simpler, apparently happy marriage of Gabrielle's sister, who threatens to leave her husband's abandonment.

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