Review: ‘Valley of Love’ is a spiritual trip into Death Valley for French couple
Grief, loss and love manifest themselves in metaphysical and mysterious ways in Guillaume Nicloux’s “Valley of Love.” Starring Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu, the film is a reunion of sorts for the pair, who starred in Maurice Pialat’s 1980 film “Loulou,” especially since “Valley of Love” is produced by Pialat’s widow, Sylvie Pialat.
Huppert and Depardieu play lightly fictionalized versions of themselves: The characters Isabelle and Gérard are actors, once married, long separated, who come together in Death Valley at the behest of letters from their deceased son Michael.
These two are strangers in a strange land, icons of French cinema set against the vast, stark landscape of the American desert. They’re aliens in the strip mall saloon, barbecue joint and convenience store culture of Inyo County.
At first skeptical of the instructions left for them by Michael, they soften toward the process as they reconnect and begin to answer questions about his life, his death and their relationship with one another. The walks in the heat of the national park offer ample time for the two to come to an understanding about their son.
“Valley of Love” is on the surface a straightforward film about finding closure, but it’s deeply spiritual and heavy with symbolism. The pair have seemingly mystical, ghostly, almost Lynchian encounters on their journey.
The valley starts to have a strange corporeal effect, their skin left inexplicably marked. But despite the heat, they start to adapt to the environment and Depardieu revels shirtless in all his glorious corpulence.
In such a spare and intimate story, Huppert and Depardieu are riveting. For as much guff as Depardieu has taken for his weight gain and antics in the past few years, this film proves that he’s still got it — sheer charisma and magnetism as a performer. The stripped-down indie aesthetic and narrative allow him to prove the persistence of his talent.
It’s illuminating to see Huppert and Depardieu in a different mode, and Huppert brings a delicate physical and emotional fragility to her role. These two are fantastic, and they’re fantastic together, the chemistry and passion between their characters so palpable, they’re almost able to bring their son back to life.
“Valley of Love”
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. In French and English with English subtitles.
Playing: Laemmle Royal, West Los Angeles.
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