Two behemoths of French cinema (one of which not only figuratively) return after three decades to star in a film that they have not seen each other for thirty years. The man’s name is Gérard, is an actor, the woman is called Isabelle, and is an actress. They could have been older versions of their characters in “Loulou” (Maurice Pialat, 1980). They reside in Death Valley, where it is scorching hot, but not as hot as Las Vegas, where the mercury has risen to 60 degrees. The reason for their visit to the US is a letter from their son Michael, who died by suicide, almost eight months ago. Both parents are estranged from their son, yet they fulfill his dying wish. In his letter to both father and mother, he noted exactly when and when they should be together. He will appear to them at one of those locations, albeit briefly.
“Valley of Love” by Guillaume Nicloux (“The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq”, “La Religuse”) has a mysterious premise and keeps it mysterious for a long time. Whether Michael will actually return from the afterlife, whether it is simply a trick to bring his divorced parents together or whether something more grim is going on … A scene that could have been cut straight from “Twin Peaks” offers in every case not a ready-made solution. Inexplicable events are interspersed with very realistic and credible ones, such as a malfunctioning cell phone or Isabelle’s brief conversation with an American elderly lady.
With Huppert and Depardieu in the ranks, Nicloux has at least gold in his hands, it is a joy to see the two talk, reminisce, argue (one is a bit more spiritual than the other and the belief in Michael’s promise is there. depending of course) or even sitting next to each other. Depardieu, in particular, is moving. Vulnerable in its gigantic size – he walks around most of the film with a bare, sweaty torso. Hats off! (no pun intended).
It is unfortunate that Valley of Love does not quite live up to its promise. Aside from beautiful visuals (the sweltering Death Valley heat is almost palpable), the intriguing plot and the strong cast that teaches you a lesson in self-awareness, the parent-child relationship barely works out. “How can you reject your flesh and blood?” is asked by an American woman, and that is indeed a question that keeps coming up. It is understandable that Isabelle and Gérard are driven by their desire for closure, but that is what the viewer wants too.