Valley Of Love
* * * *
By Margaret Chrystall
FOR some people, it would be persuasion enough to see this film just for the chance to see Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert act together again (French movie Loulou 35 years ago was the last time). She may have turned into a slightly-desiccated stick insect and he a massive-stomached ox, but time can’t touch the quality of the performances you get from them at the core of this weird little movie.
What happens: As parents, Gerard and Isabelle arrive from their long-separated lives at a sun-bleached Death Valley resort on a quest set up by their late 30-year-old son Michael. He sent each a letter before he killed himself, promising that if they came to the place and visited seven local landmarks they would all meet again.
Gerard (Gerard Depardieu) and Isabelle (Isabelle Huppert) are sceptical, but we discover they have enough regrets, guilt and desire to see their son again, even if it means the inconvenience of interrupting their current lives.
The movie opens as we follow behind Isabelle arriving in the resort, pulling her suitcase on wheels, wearing a pretty floral dress as a mercilessly bright sun bakes down. Gerard follows later and we quickly discover the two now have new partners and other children, in polite conversation that quickly dips back into the mutual puzzle of their mission, random reminiscence (he asks if she remembers making love in a lift) and the odd recrimination. Gerard says: “You left your son at seven, by 16 he wanted us out of his life … 15 years later he took pills.”
But both have drifted on with their lives, now realising how little they knew Michael. Isabelle asks why he died and Gerard replies “How do I know? Michael was a loner.”
And both now hover on the brink of two more major life tests – serious illness and a marriage break-up – ideal timing to want some kind of closure with the son they hardly knew.
We are given clues about this former couple’s lives. At one point Isabelle impulsively exits the car leaving the door open and Gerard wearily goes round in what feels a familiar way and closes it before following her. Yet when he is nearby and hears her cry out in her hotel room, his desire to run and rescue her is instinctive and unhesitating.
There’s a funny scene where Gerard is half-recognised and asked for an autograph. He signs but with his own twist before being hounded by the angry fan.
And with writer and director Guillaume Nicloux, real life overlaps in his story – so real actors Gerard and Isabelle playing actors Gerard and Isabelle.
And in an interview with a French film website, Nicloux has revealed that part of the idea for Valley of Love came to him when he believed on a trip to Death Valley he had seen saw his own late father.
But though Nicloux allows some unexplained supernatural elements to enhance the slight plot - including a strange late-night encounter for Gerard on the resort tennis court – the heart of it is the couple’s story.
“When you love someone once, you love them forever,” says Isabelle to her ex, but does Nicloux allow us to believe that?
Best quote: Gerard: “He thought we f***ed up his life. It’s his way of punishing us. To spend a week in this boiling heat ... I’ll play his game till Wednesday.”
Or from one of the dead Michael’s letters: “I took my own life, at least, it got away from me.”
Quick review: A chance to see two legends of French cinema meet up again to play grieving parents, distanced years ago from each other - and their late son Michael. But before his suicide he sent letters asking them to go to Death Valley to possibly meet him. Wary, disbelieving, they still take the chance. It’s an unforgettable film, apparently slight on the surface, but haunting.
Valley Of Love will return to Eden Court Cinema in January or February for a few days. Look out for confirmed dates.