VOD film review: Valley of Love
James R | On 13, Aug 2016
Director: Guillaume Nicloux
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Gerard Depardieu
Watch Valley of Love online in the UK: MUBI UK / Curzon Home Cinema / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
There are certain places in the world that leave an indelible mark on you. That’s what happened with Guillaume Nicloux, who was inspired to write and direct this film, after visiting the dry, almost alien landscape of Death Valley. Rather fittingly, it’s a bit of a trek.
Gerard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert play Gerard and Isabelle, an estranged couple who are brought together by a strange invitation from their son, Michael, who promises that they will see him if they visit the Californian landmark on a particular date. The strange part? He committed suicide six months ago.
Nicloux is extremely adept at drawing performances from his two stars, both of whom have worked with him before. Playing aged actors, and with Depardieu having his own real-life loss that is inseparable from his on-screen melancholy, it’s easy to believe that they’re almost playing themselves. Their chemistry is superb, carrying years of unseen baggage between them, even when they’re in a cramped, stuffy car. It’s the chance to see these two powerhouses of French cinema that makes Valley of Love worth watching – but the rest of the film never matches their quality.
Nicloux builds on the intensity of his leads, using music and the eerie backdrop to conjure up a sense of claustrophobia, even when the horizon stretches into the distance. The atmosphere drips with humidity and human grief, pushing the mood intro almost supernatural territory – to the point where you begin to expect Michael’s appearance any second. One striking scene in a hotel room has the ring of a horror film to it, as Isabelle’s leg appears to be grabbed by something. But that sweating potential is never fully realised; the film meanders through peaks and troughs without ever finding a resolution. The ambiguity is intentional, but that doesn’t make it any more rewarding an experience. The result is intriguing, but inescapably flawed and frustrating. Perhaps it’s better off putting the ticket price towards funding your own Death Valley experience.
Valley of Love is now available on MUBI UK, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription.