Director: Guillaume Nicloux
Cast: Isabelle Huppert, Gerard Depardieu, Dan Warner, Aurelia Thierree
Running Time: 91 minutes
Imagine some apocalyptic picture of what would have happened if things went horribly wrong in the end of AFTER SUNSET trilogy – a romantic encounter and an instant spark of love turned into a blazing divorce, problematic children and despairing inability to construct a satisfying love life. Luckily, Richard Linklater did not plan to horrify the public with such unexpected outcomes, yet Guillaume Nicloux definitely had one or two calamitous events in mind. The director, who already presented to the world a vision of an existential crisis in the 18th century with his most recent THE NUN, certainly does not settle down for the jolly outlook on life. VALLEY OF LOVE is full of bitter romance, agonising wounds from the past and guilt-ridden life decisions with some serious repercussions – definitely not a must-watch for those who have only started revelling in their flourishing relationships. Is the director even sorry for such dystopian reflections on love?
To be fair, not really – VALLEY OF LOVE is a film which is frank and unapologetic in its view on rotten relationships and ruined lives. Love is replaced by a ferocious battle of two fragile and insecure characters who, after setting each other’s destinies on fire, will still continue to self-destruct. Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu are reunited 35 years after they both appeared in Maurice Pialat’s LOULOU to deliver a sad picture about dysfunctional divorcees who can’t seem to make sense of the reasons behind their rapidly disintegrating lives.
Isabelle and Gerard are a long-separated couple who are forced to get together due to the sudden announcement of death of their forsaken adult son, Michael. Michael sends them both a suicide note, where he tells them to come all the way to Eastern California’s Death Valley (where apparently he spent last weeks of his life), as this could be the last chance for them to say goodbye. Either as an invitation to get his much-hated selfish parents together to make them contemplate on their past mistakes, or as an ironic gesture of their absolution – Michael’s real intentions and the meaning behind his cryptic messages would still remain unclear. Yet some things do shine through – in a spur of a moment all skeletons in the closet of once-happy nuclear family do explode and scatter all over the place like thousands of grey ashes.
Gerard and Isabelle know exactly where their relationship went astray and how they precipitated such ruinous consequences, yet both of them are too proud and self-involved to admit in their wrongdoings. Instead, they decide to go a well trodden path – blame each other and avoid looking for truth. Guillame Nicloux is great at playing with the interchanging dynamics of their never-ending arguments, never taking a side and stepping back to let them clean the mess they have created.
What VALLEY OF LOVE succeeds best at is creating a microcosm of well-sculpted characters, whose tiny, everyday idiosyncrasies embellish and juice up the film. We first see Isabelle as a petite and graceful Parisian woman, who has no patience on clingy and over-talkative Americans, and who spits fire on California’s unbearable heat and innutritious canned food (‘And you call this soup?’ she adds after visiting a local convenience store). Gerard is a whale-like, grumpy man who has come to turns with his dramatic weight gain, general ineptitude to life and inevitability of his failures. The interaction between those two characters dominates most of the story, yet they are transparent enough not to overweigh the flowing narrative.
While ambitiously setting the film on all the right notes and promises, the film fails to deliver the most crucial – a discernible culmination. If it commenced, simulating quite a formulaic family drama, the ending is very had to make sense of. All of a sudden, there are Lynchian nocturnal horror scenes and supernatural occurrences that imply that Michael might still be alive. The film traps itself in a plethora of unfinished promises and confuses the viewer on what was the true intention behind the whole load of drama that has just unfolded.
Moreover, even though we can celebrate the sharpness and depth of Hubert and Depardieu’s immaculate acting and never-fading on-screen chemistry, VALLEY OF LOVE depends too much on their absolute commitment to their characters. The camera gets a bit lazy as the only other job it does other than focusing tightly on Gerard and Isabelle’s outbursts of emotions, is pause on the vast dry landscapes of the Death Valley as if they are some self-explanatory generators of some hidden meaning. The film reflects exactly what is has scripted – it battles with its own demons and tries to sort out its self-generated mishaps, yet, for sure, it is a mess that is highly pleasurable to watch.
VALLEY OF LOVE can be seen at Curzon Mayfair today, October 12, and will be officially released in the UK cinemas on November 20.
[youtube width=”640″ height=”360″]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkTryTys2eQ[/youtube]