Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert last appeared on screen together in Maurice Pialat’s 1980 film Loulou, but such is their combined talent they look like they’ve been playing married couples together all their lives in Guillaume Nicloux’s Valley Of Love. It’s acting that appears easy, and effortless, when of course it isn’t, and the standards set by these two titans of European arthouse cinema turn a middling, slightly-odd film into one that’s well worth seeking out. It’s set entirely in Death Valley, and their two characters – named Gérard and Isabelle in a self-reflexive move by the writer/director – are both famous actors, confirming Nicloux’s preference for meta-moviemaking. (At one point Gérard is recognised by a hotel guest who can’t quite place him, so he snarkily signs an autograph with the name ‘Bob DeNiro’.)
The couple are separated, but have met up in the US because their 31-year-old son has committed suicide in San Francisco, and he sent the pair almost-identical letters before taking an overdose of pills that require them to meet up at a specified date in the National Park. They have been tasked with visiting five different spots within five days at certain times; their son has promised he will reappear before them at one of these places. Sounds crazy? It is, of course, but then Nicloux provides regular whiffs of the fantastical for it to seem vaguely possible, with the occasional bizarre, Lynchian scene popping up in-between Isabelle and Gérard’s conversations. There’s one clunky metaphor related to communication – both parents were estranged from their son, as well as from one another, and we see Isabelle struggling through numerous phone conversations as her signal keeps cutting out – but I can’t really find too much wrong with the film, in all honesty, though I’m sure it’s high concept nature will bother some people; it’s a solid piece of work, with some lovely shots of the scorched landscape, and as I said above the two leads deliver strong performances. Depardieu, whose own son died at the age of 37, has been making the news a lot of late as a result of a series of bizarre incidents, many of which have apparently been alcohol-related; the evidence here suggests that he has turned the corner, at least in terms of his acting, which is great to see.
Directed by: Guillaume Nicloux.
Written by: Guillaume Nicloux.
Starring: Gérard Depardieu, Isabelle Huppert.
Cinematography: Christophe Offenstein.
Editing: Guy Lecorne.
Running Time: 92 minutes.