Valley of Love
- Hannah McGill
- 8 August 2016
Gérard Dépardieu and Isabelle Huppert head up an idiosyncratic comedy which makes the most of its star power
He's a messy, boozy, emotional hulk who just about makes up in charisma what he lacks in self-discipline. She's a tightly-wound Type A with an eccentric edge. Oh, and both are famous French actors…
This drifty two-hander makes no bones about capitalising on the specific star personae of its stars, Gérard Dépardieu and Isabelle Huppert, who appeared together in Les Valseuses in 1974 and Loulou in 1980. In terms of iconhood, a US remake would have to star Robert de Niro and Meryl Streep; indeed, at one point Dépardieu mocks a tourist who can't place him by signing De Niro's name. The two play long-estranged parents of an adult son who are pulled back together in the event of his death – not to attend a funeral or read a will, but to follow a strange set of directions that he has left for them.
This entails trailing through the punishing heat of California's Death Valley, an experience that challenges both personalities to their fullest extent. She's perennially frustrated by her inability to get a phone signal; his parlous state of physical health ensures the perpetual possibility that the heat may kill him. Was this discomfort what their son wanted? Was he attempting to force them back together, in a sort of posthumous Parent Trap? Or does he genuinely intend, as his letters to them promise, to manifest himself to them in the desert?
With a shambling lack of focus that's at once charming and frustrating, the film addresses these questions in fits and starts, making the most of its marvellous leads whilst never quite summoning the energy to take its story anywhere decisive. It feels under-realised, and its quasi-supernatural moments have a somewhat forced air about them, but is insightful and moving about family dysfunction, long-held guilt and the instinctive intimacy that can linger between long-split lovers.
Select release from Fri 12 Aug.