Movie Review: Valley of Love (2015)
Valley of Love (2015)
Director: Guillaume Nicloux
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Gérard Depardieu, Dan Warner
Synopsis: An estranged couple travel to Death Valley in the hope of being reunited with their dead son.
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Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu (102 Dalmatians, Life of Pi), two heavyweights of French cinema (literally, in Depardieu’s case – his ballooning gut is so expansive that his belly button now gazes dolefully at the ground), reunite more than 30 years after Loulou, their last screen outing together, to play an estranged married couple who are reunited by a message from beyond the grave from their son in Guillaume Nicloux’s enigmatic drama, Valley of Love.
The valley in question is Death Valley in California, where successful actors Isabelle and Gerard have been summoned by the letters their gay son Michel wrote to them before unexpectedly committing suicide. The reason he committed suicide is a mystery – as are so many things. However, in the letters, he insists that if his parents travel together to seven different locations on consecutive days at a specified time, all three will once more be together for a brief moment. Quite how this is possible, or why Michel wishes to be reunited with his parents after death when he showed little inclination to keep in touch when he was alive, is another plot point on which Nicloux’s screenplay remains stubbornly mute.
But then, Valley of Love isn’t really about the mystery of Michel’s death, but the power that death holds over all of us. From beyond the grave, Michel has the power to bring his parents together in a way that he never could when he was alive. The spectre of death hangs over us all, both in terms of those loved ones it has taken from us and the ultimate fate that awaits us. Gerard has recently received the unwelcome news that he has cancer and, for him, in a Lynchian scene of quiet foreboding. death shows a disturbing face. The vast, barren spaces of Death Valley provide a paradoxically claustrophobic setting due to an absence of features which promotes introspective contemplation, and possibly hallucinatory revelations.
Nicloux’s teasing screenplay’s delight in withholding information from his audience is intriguing and frustrating in equal measure, and the nagging suspicion that even he is unsure of the meaning behind his movie is impossible to shake off. He’s on firmer ground when exploring the relationship between Isabelle and Gerard, creating a convincing picture of two people whose marriage failed because of the kind of character flaws that time and experience has erased from their profiles, but whose maturity makes them wary of becoming too close once again. Both actors give masterful, understated performances, revealing as much during small moments of apparent insignificance as they do in the more dramatic scenes. Ultimately, though, Valley of Love leaves too many of the questions it poses unanswered, both on a literal and metaphysical level, to be truly satisfying.
(Reviewed 9th August 2016)