VALLEY OF LOVE (France/TBC/91mins)
Directed by Guillaume Nicloux. Starring Isabelle Huppert, Gerard Depardieu.
THE PLOT: Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) and Gerard (Gerard Depardieu) meet in the sweltering hot Death Valley. The couple were once married, and their son Michael has sent them letters detailing his suicide, and his plans to return. The stipulation is that both his parents must be present for this to happen, and the site of his return will be one of seven Death Valley landmarks. As the two wait to see their late son, they argue, debate and converse about their lives together, and apart.
THE VERDICT: Guillaume Nicloux’s film reunites Huppert and Depardieu on screen for the first time in 35 years – the last time they worked together being Maurice Pialat’s LOULOU – and while the chemistry between the two actors is as good as you would hope, they are let down by a story that is not nearly as clever as it thinks it is.
As mentioned, Depardieu and Huppert are easy and relaxed on screen together. Even as their characters argue – and they frequently do – it is clear these two actors have a great respect for one another, and strong chemistry. As details of their past life together come to the surface, they become protective and kind to one another, further serving to underline the strength of these two performers.
Guillaume Nicloux’s screenplay wavers between the reality of the relationship between these two people, and the spiritual ‘quest’ the find themselves on. The trouble is that the real is all too real and he metaphysical element of the film is more of an intrusion than a plot twist. That said, the dialogue between the two characters is great, with the exposition and back story always being revealed through an argument or conversation that feels natural and real.
As director, Guillaume Nicloux seems to have thrown all his energy into allowing the audience to get to know these people, their relationship and their grief, but never truly allows the film to feel balanced in all the magic that it is trying to achieve. Christophe Offenstein’s cinematography makes Death Valley look beautifully desolate, and the perfect austere backdrop to the rich emotional conversations happening on screen.
In all, VALLEY OF LOVE never quite strikes the balance between this world and the next, which is a main plot point for the film, and one that audiences are never allowed to get on board with. Huppert and Depardieu are wonderful, however, and it is a shame to see their reunion after 35 years let them down so badly.
RATING: 2.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - Valley of Love
Review by Brogen Hayes
  • filmbuff2011

    Valley Of Love sees the reunion of two of France’s best-known actors. Last seen together onscreen way back in 1980, Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert are the driving force behind this miracle-tinged desert mystery.

    Playing versions of themselves to lend the film an air of further reality, Valley Of Love sees Gerard and Isabelle playing former spouses who find themselves in Death Valley, California. They’ve been brought back together again by their late, estranged son Michael, who lived in San Francisco. They barely saw him though – he was a loner who committed suicide and didn’t have much contact with his parents. However, he left letters for Gerard and Isabelle, telling them to go to Death Valley, with specific times and places for them to be at. For, he will apparently reappear to them for a limited time. Initially haughty at the idea of being thrown back together again after many years apart, Gerard and Isabelle soon come to realise that there may be a genuine purpose behind all of this…

    Valley Of Love is one of those French films that you should either take with a pinch of salt or a leap of faith. It can’t be taken too seriously, so you just go along for the ride. Alternatively, you could accept what director Guillaume Nicloux is telling you in both his reasonably measured screenplay and direction. This reviewer is of the former opinion – for a film that is working hard to embrace reality, it may be a bit much to ask for a leap of faith without providing any real onscreen evidence. There’s a doubting Thomas element here and Nicloux doesn’t provide any easy answers. It’s vague and open to interpretation, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

    That said though, Valley Of Love has its moments e.g. Gerard reading out the letter that Isabelle got from Michael. It’s a powerful scene, with the words carrying weight and years of regrets. You can almost imagine Michael in the room, watching and waiting to see what happens next. Huppert and Depardieu are the real reason to watch the film – they have great onscreen chemistry and the film mostly gets by on this. Take either of them out of the film for a few minutes and it would collapse. Though, a little less of Depardieu’s mountainous belly would be better. The Death Valley locations are used as a backdrop for personal revelations and character moments, illustrating the barren gulf between the two lead characters and their lost son. Valley Of Love may be flawed and ask a little too much of its audience, but take it with a pinch of salt and you might find it enlightening. ***