Things get weird in the desert in Guillaume Nicloux’s Valley of Love, a comedic drama about grief and loss. Self-reflexively retaining their actual first names, Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu play French actors who travel to Death Valley, California upon the instructions of their deceased gay son. The couple has long been divorced, and the trip reunites them as they go from site to site, following an itinerary that their son constructed before killing himself. The son is never shown, he’s already been dead for some time when the movie begins. We understand that he was estranged or disowned, but Valley of Love is not specific about the history. At the outset, when Isabelle asks Gérard if it’s their fault their son killed himself, he retorts, Yes, of course, we gave birth to him, it’s our fault. Otherwise the movie does not unknot the tangled relationship the parents had with their son. It’s not about seeing clearly now that the rain is gone. In fact, it gets increasingly murky: While the first half is played for comedy—whether it’s Gérard’s obesity and playful misanthropy, or Isabelle’s French prickliness—something happens towards the middle, and the movie shifts tone, becoming stranger and more opaque as it dips its toes into the metaphysical. The ending is ambiguous and mystifying.
By Alec Julian & Carrie White