Opening Friday, August 18

The French romantic drama From the Land of the Moon certainly has the pedigree of a respectable art-house film. Based on a literary novella, it’s a period piece set in France in the 1950s, with privileged young daughters, sweaty field hands, artfully graphic sex, and Marion Cotillard in the lead. Alas, even prestige pictures can be turkeys.

Told in one extended flashback, the film follows the romantic fortunes of Gabrielle (Cotillard), an intense young woman who seems to suffer from erotomania. Gabrielle only wants men she can’t have, and when her advances are rebuffed, she cycles between high drama and catatonic depression. Her well-to-do family arranges a marriage of convenience, pawning off their troublesome daughter on José, a good-hearted Catalan laborer (Àlex Brendemühl). Gabrielle informs José up front that she won’t sleep with him. He reluctantly accepts the arrangement, although they later negotiate a strange compromise.

When a medical condition lands Gabrielle in a Swiss health spa, she spots her next object of obsession, Andre (Louis Garrel), a wounded soldier. A dark-and-brooding sort straight out of romance-novel central casting, he plays Tchaikovsky on the piano and everything. Nine months after returning from the spa, Gabrielle has a son. Turns out he’s good at the piano, too.

Things are not as they seem, however. A ludicrous third-act reveal sends the story spinning off into hopeless melodrama and puts the kibosh on any remaining audience goodwill. Cotillard, effortlessly compelling as ever, isn’t the problem. The character of Gabrielle isshe’s a romantic sociopath who starts off as little more than a tangle of adolescent urges and ends up there, too. The late plot twist is a momentary thrill, but it leaves the character undeveloped and the story unresolved. This is two-thirds of a script made into two-thirds of a movie. No fair.