VALLEY OF LOVE
Director: Guillaume Nicloix
Stars: Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu
Rating: * *
Watching two icons of French cinema, appearing for the first time together since Maurice Pialat’s Loulou (1980), exude their considerable charisma is the chief benefit of this shaggy, evasive, heat stricken look at guilt and grief. Huppert and Depardieu play Isabelle and Gérard, parallel version of themselves who fictionally married, split up long ago and whose estranged son Michael has committed suicide six months prior – though not before sending each a cryptic letter that he will reappear to them if they reunite and wait for him in Death Valley, Nevada.
Remarking on an actor’s physical misfortune is usually something to avoid, yet Depardieu’s bloated belly is on display and remarked on so often here that it’s practically the third lead. It’s also notably as flabby and misshapen as a story that spins its wheels for 80% of its running time, as the couple bicker, sweat and hand-wring over their mutual blame for Michael’s fate. It’s the kind of film that insists on the label “metaphysical” because its potential remains almost entirely theoretical.
Huppert is predictably good in her tremulous, brittle anxiety. But it’s Depardieu who, away from all his tiresome real-life crankiness and Putin worship, really reminds you what a compelling onscreen presence he is when his mind’s on the job. Towards the end, director Nicloix starts to grope towards the haunting groove he was presumably searching for earlier, aided by composer Charles Ives’s glacial, shimmering score. But then the film pulls back, playing safe with ambiguity. If the scorching, desolate setting is meant to suggest a sort of purgatory for its two characters, instead it’s the audience who feel disorientated, hot under the collar and left in limbo.