Valley of Love

Review by David Jenkins @daveyjenkins

Directed by

Guillaume Nicloux

Starring

Dan Warner Gérard Depardieu Isabelle Huppert

Anticipation.

The director’s previous film was the hilarious The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq.

Enjoyment.

If spending time in the company of Huppert and Depardieu is all you require…

In Retrospect.

Promises much, but ends up feeling strangely underpowered and insincere.

A film in which Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu play fictional versions of themselves should’ve been better.

Sharing a screen for the first time since Maurice Pialat’s bruising 1980 classic, Loulou, Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu do the bickering, middle-aged divorced couple thing in Guillaume Nicloux’s ponderous spiritual comedy-drama, Valley of Love. And, it’s produced by Pialat’s widow, Sylvie, so the connection there is doubly strong. The key difference, then, is that Loulou is great, and this… not so much.

The film examines the part children play in a marriage and how they can exist as a binding agent whose properties linger on after love has expired. It also looks at coping strategies for the death of loved ones, and how difficult it is to just carry on with life and be content with the gaping void that has been left. Yet, its tone is often so arch, that the more serious undertow is lost under a gentle torrent of glibly ironic jokes and situations.

Cheerfully corpulent Gérard (Depardieu) meets his highly strung ex-spouse Isabelle (Huppert) in the Californian sunshine spot of Death Valley, at the behest of a note left by their late son. The pair have been instructed to visit seven specific spots together and, at one of them, an apparition or some kind of sign might appear. Valley of Love follows the pair as they partake in this supernatural quest. Isabelle is uniquely driven, such is her desire to see their late son once more time. Gérard, meanwhile, finds the whole thing to be poppycock (even though he’s made the trip), and the couple use the situation to continue the arguing which possibly caused them to split (and their son to commit suicide).

There are mildly intriguing layers to the material, particularly if you are at all au fait with the real lives of the two leads. But the whimsical overlaps between real and fictionalised personas add little but the odd insider titter, the clever casting doing little to amplify the story of a couple going to insane ends to mourn their son. Speculating as to the reasons for the split and for the death might have been a fun quest for the viewer, but the diffuse celebrity angle flattens any attempt at sincerity. The film’s best scenes just afford us the chance to watch two powerhouses who have done it all, sparring, out there in the desert.

Published 11 Aug 2016

Tags: French Cinema Gérard Depardieu Isabelle Huppert

Anticipation.

The director’s previous film was the hilarious The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq.

Enjoyment.

If spending time in the company of Huppert and Depardieu is all you require…

In Retrospect.

Promises much, but ends up feeling strangely underpowered and insincere.

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