Daily | Cannes 2015 | Guillaume Nicloux’s VALLEY OF LOVE

'Valley of Love'

‘Valley of Love’

Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert, those enduring monuments of French cinema, last shared the screen in Maurice Pialat’s 1980 Loulou as a studly small-time crook and his fresh-faced mistress,” begins Jon Frosch in the Hollywood Reporter. “Now the two are back together—the former with his middle-aged bulk, the latter having slimmed down to an alarmingly wiry frame—in Guillaume Nicloux’s Valley of Love, a flawed but affecting two-hander that intrigues and frustrates in nearly equal measure. Playing an estranged couple that reunites in California’s Death Valley per instructions in their son’s suicide note, the movie starts off like a nostalgia stunt for French film buffs, tiptoes toward something deeper and more unsettling, then proceeds to circle it nervously instead of plunging headlong into the darkness.”

“Whether or not the invitation has been issued with an earnestly mystic sense of purpose, or as a ruse to get the two together to belatedly process their joint loss, is hard to discern,” finds Variety‘s Guy Lodge. “Given no voice or face in the proceedings, Michael is more a human MacGuffin than an emotionally charged absence, as it emerges that Gérard and Isabelle were scarcely less estranged from him than they have been from each other…. Certainly, Nicloux’s appropriation of shimmeringly atonal, semi-hymnal compositions by American modernist composer Charles Ives supports the possibility that the eponymous, amorous Valley may be an ethereal parallel universe of sorts. Christophe Offenstein’s serene widescreen lensing, on the other hand, is brightly defined as can be, offering its characters little reprieve from the coruscating California sun.”

“This movie doesn’t really follow through with its own ideas, either in the natural realm of the aging couple’s relationship or the supernatural arena of an eerily possible apparition,” finds the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw. “Huppert’s performance is entirely what was to be expected, and I have to say that there is something semi-intentionally comic in the spectacle of the deadpan Huppert just walking grimly along, radiating fastidious disapproval for everything she sees…. But Dépardieu is good: a calmer, more reflective, less egomaniacal performance than anything recently, and there is something almost heartbreakingly absurd in his whale-like obesity and that plump, cartoony face peaking out from under a cap.”

For Barbara Scharres at, Valley of Love is “a slight but entertaining piece of hokum.” And for Screen‘s Allan Hunter, it’s “an odd but not unappealing mixture of mystical road movie and family psychodrama that often threatens to become a Death Valley Don’t Look Now or, heaven forfend, a California Sea of Trees.”

Variety‘s Elsa Keslassy reports that Nicloux “will next direct Les confins du monde, an Indochina-war set drama partly based on Erwan Bergot’s Commando Vandenberghe: Le Pirate du Delta…. Depardieu is in negotiations to join the cast.”

Updates, 5/23: “On the one hand, the California-desert photography is stunning, and Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu are naturally great together,” writes Grantland‘s Wesley Morris. “On the other, it’s preposterous.”

“Let it never be said that this is a great film,” concedes Geoff Andrew, writing for Time Out. “It is, however, extremely enjoyable, despite an uneven script…. Tender, touching, funny and sometimes almost frighteningly intense, [Depardieu and Huppert’s] scenes together are not only a masterclass in screen acting, but clearly benefit from the actors’ evidently keen, relaxed understanding of one another.”

“A film as mercurial as this can be an impressive thing,” grants Oliver Lyttelton at the Playlist, “but the back half is so filled with half-baked metaphysics, pseudo-Lynchian maybe-dreams, and a sour, cheap conclusion that feels nihilistically cruel to at least one of its characters, that even the pleasures of watching the actors on screen start to fade away.”

Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa: “Discretely putting himself behind his two stars who are on the top of their game here, the filmmaker succeeds in patiently creating a piece which very much goes back to basics, to the deepest roots of a form of cinéma vérité of life, moving back and forth in time to shed light on the present and leave the present to explain the past.”

Update, 5/25: Ioncinema‘s Nicholas Bell predicts that “many will be irritated by Nicloux’s abject unwillingness to define exactly what it is that’s going on. But this is what makes the film into a rather beautiful, melancholy poem about guilt, grief, and the tragedy of expectation. This Gérard and Isabelle, paired with the specter of their child, somewhat recall echoes of George and Martha from Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, a pair writhing through their own self-inflicted punishments. In their combined pantheon of notable performances stretching over decades of cinema, perhaps neither Huppert nor Depardieu will be distinctly remembered for the defiant Valley of Love, but it’s a fascinating title deserving of deliberation.”

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