Valley of Love (2015)

Two icons of French cinema reunite in Death Valley in Guillaume Nicloux’s Valley of Love.

Unhappy Valley

by Alexa Dalby

Valley of Love

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu share the screen in this two-hander, 35 years after they first starred together in Maurice Pialat’s Loulou and watching them together is the most riveting thing about this film. Playing two long-divorced actors, also named Isabelle and Gérard, they rendezvous after years apart in the searing heat of California’s Death Valley because of letters sent to them by their estranged gay son, who committed suicide some months previously. In the letters, he mysteriously tells them that if they visit particular tourist spots on certain days they will see him.

Isabelle is driven by grief and guilt that she neglected him in his last years and desperate for some kind of miracle or manifestation to happen if she fulfils these conditions. Gérard, grieving too, is more rational, but despite this has turned up. Both retain their quintessential Frenchness, adrift in the typically American setting of the tourist motel where they are both staying. Gérard, it transpires, is a recognisable TV soap-opera actor, who has to deal with an intrusive fan.

Isabelle is at first irritable and Gérard offhand, but the situation they find themselves in, as they sweat through the stunning, unforgiving landscapes, starts to bring about an exchange of confidences and a growing rapport, a kind of understanding of their shared past and unchangable separate presents. Neither is as settled as they first appear, either in their new relationships or in their own mortality. Gérard’s vast bulk, his mountainous stomach unashamedly flaunted, wheezes through canyons and rock formations, while Isabelle, tiny next to him, is outwardly cool yet inwardly torturing herself.

Nicloux is the director of The Nun and The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, and the writer/director of Valley of Love. The ending is strange, inexplicable, with a note of spirituality that has been present in the atmosphere throughout – yet ultimately, it’s inconclusive and maybe it’s not the point after all. The joy of the film is watching Huppert and Depardieu together, two great actors who extract every nuance from the shifts in their uncertain relationship.

Valley of Love is released in the UK on 12 August 2016.

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