As arid as its desert setting, Valley of Love plays as a French, emotionally blank version of 45 Years.
Just as Andrew Haigh’s shattering marital drama brought together U.K. legends Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling, Guillaume Nicloux’s reunites Gallic superstars Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu, who last shared the frame in Maurice Pialat’s Loulou (1980). The icons play characters named Isabelle and Gérard, long-divorced spouses who also happen to be actors; the exes find themselves in Death Valley at the request of their son, who constructed a detailed itinerary for them just before his suicide six months earlier.
This fiction also borrows from fact: Depardieu’s firstborn, the talented performer Guillaume Depardieu, died at age 37 from pneumonia in 2008. But these biographical details fail to heighten the impact of a project that gives its leads little to do other than complain about the heat and bad cellphone reception and look askance at American boorishness. Isabelle and Gérard’s regrets and laments about their parenting skills betray no bone-deep rue or shame but are delivered with all the conviction of two luminaries merely running their lines. (Another obstacle: For all her gifts, Huppert is a terrible onscreen crier.)
Nicloux’s previous film, The Kidnapping of Michel Houllebecq, succeeded thanks to the mischievous glee that the title character — France’s most controversial contemporary writer, playing a lightly fictionalized version of himself — took in sending up his own persona. Valley of Love, in contrast, reveals the indifference of two eminences: both to the material they’ve been given and to each other.
Valley of Love
Written and directed by Guillaume Nicloux
Opens March 25, Film Society of Lincoln Center