There’s a certain kind of spiritual relationship drama that really appeals to me. “Lost” had it… and so does Valley of Love, the Gérard Depardieu/Isabelle Huppert-starring French drama from director, Guillaume Nicloux.
Depardieu and Huppert play ex-lovers reunited by the dying wish of their son: for them travel to Death Valley and visit a number of pre-ordained locations at suspiciously specific times. As they begin to find each other once again, it seems that they’re not exactly alone.
It’s a great premise and a perfect set-up for a complex study into long-lost love and elderly romance and, while the film doesn’t entirely live up to that, it does prove to be a welcome diversion.
The two leads are a particular draw and their chemistry comes across as absolutely genuine. Their rapport is pitched perfectly and it’s well served by Nicloux’s dialogue, with Depardieu getting some juicy one-liners along the way.
The film also benefits from some stunning backdrops. Death Valley looks amazing and the blinding natural light warms the colour palette very pleasingly. One shot, in particular, has really stuck with me. Cinematographer, Christophe Offenstein, frames the two stars from behind, looking out over the great Californian expanse on their tiny camping stools: Depardieu bear-like and Huppert more reminiscent of a nimble dear, fragile enough that we fear she may be crushed under his staggering load. It’s the single greatest comedic image I saw at the festival and Nicloux never again matches that shot for its pure distillation of Gérard and Isabelle’s relationship.
The crisp sunlight is well juxtaposed with the chillier night-time scenes. This even extends to a Lynchian encounter between Depardieu and a teenage girl on a tennis court. In addition to this, Nicloux’s use of Charles Ives’ classical compositions evokes Lynch’s collaborations with Angelo Badalamenti.
Somehow, Valley of Love manages to feel long, even at a slim 93 minutes, and most of the side characters just come across as distractions. But, the film is a strong vehicle for Depardieu and Huppert. And, if their interplay isn’t justification enough, Offenstein’s visuals and the magic realism ensure there’s much to be said for this over-looked Palme d’Or contender.