In their first joint film appearance, 35 years after Maurice Pialat’s “Loulou”, two French cinema legends meet again in a film that does not know what to make of them – so leaves them to sweat without script or any real aim in the Valley of Death.
A former couple meets in California’s Death Valley, where they went following the wishes expressed in their dead son’s individual letters to them. Following the letters’ instructions, they visit daily different parts of this eerie landscape trying to protect themselves from the excessive heat, from strange events and their bittersweet reprise of their common life.
Unfortunately, what sounds fascinating and charmingly metaphysical in “Valley of Love”’s plot described above has to come to terms with the moderate skills of a director who has not yet convinced us that he can do anything more than indifferent films verging dangerously on the camp (see “La Religieuse” in 2013), with his best moment probably being the most surreal “The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq” in 2014.
Guillaume Nicloux’s big idea, of course, is not a (theatrical in nature) script performed open air, neither opposing death to the love in Valley of Death’s ideal setting, nor of course the strangeness of a metaphysical improbability setting in motion a romantic drama, which is anyway never explained.
The sole reason for this film, and (by implication) its presence in the 68th Cannes Film Festival’s competition section is that the leading couple of the film is Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert who play Gérard and Isabelle, in their first encounter on film, 35 years after Maurice Pialat’s “Loulou”.
Even if no one remembers them together as younger and beautifully erotic, the coexistence of the two sacred monsters of the French and generally the European cinema in a single film is in itself something worth waiting for and that you certainly want to see. Especially when Nikloux toys with their real personas, leaving Depardieu for about half of the film to wander half-naked in his heavy body and Huppert playing the “not fitting anywhere” Frenchwoman who cannot stand the bad mobile phone signal.
Yes, it is touching to hear Gerard say “I got fat” to a woman who “met” him as one of the sexiest actors ever appearing on the big screen and even more touching to see him together with Isabelle talking about time passing – getting in and out of their roles – trying to recover memories they have forgotten after a tragedy like their child’s suicide and the lives that followed it.
This is where it all ends, since “Valley of Love” will continue with a sequence of indifferent interactive scenes, with a completely failed imagery à la manière de Lynch and with long scenes where the camera is stuck on the heroes’ faces. Nicloux seems unable to decide whether what we see is ultimately a film about second chances, a thriller about the fear of death, a on the road romance between two people who share the same sorrow and the same love for each other or ultimately a pointless, verbose, on the verge of hysteria drama that purports to enthrall the viewer, but only succeeds in exhausting him long before it is clearly understood that what happens is only one discarded idea after the other, as discarded both protagonists seem to be in this inhospitable landscape.
With Depardieu to win on points, since he carries his weight in direct proportion to his hero and Isabelle Huppert often letting herself to an unnecessary extravagance (both in her comic and dramatic crescendos), the two stars should still be less blamed for Valley of Love”’s indifference: without them one could speak of a not-so-talented student’s graduation film.
Guillaume Nicloux believes that a “weird” idea, an overdose of romantic musings and forced “oneliners”, two so called”wild” scenes that will make the viewer wonder, an exotic background and the two protagonists’ vast legacy are enough to convert a naturalistic cinema into a metaphysical cinematic experience and a small film into a historical moment of contemporary French cinema. Perhaps seeing his own film will make him realise that the chaos between what one wants to believe and what eventually happens is as big as the effort of turning a death valley to a valley of love.