I watched David Lynch’s Wild at Heart in 1990’s, and didn’t get the movie. I hated it. From then on, I avoided David Lynch’s films as I think he operates on a different creativity plane. I didn’t realise that Valley of Love actually operates in a Lynch-esque universe.
What attracts me is the premise of the movie – a long-divorced couple, Isabelle (Isabelle Hupert) and Gérard (Gérard Depardieu) received a letter each, instructing them to visit the Death Valley, in California in November 2014. The letters were written by their dead son, Michael who committed a suicide in San Francisco. Both letters say that if Isabelle and Gérard follow the instructions on where to visit each day, they will receive a message signs from him, and that he will make a brief appearance on the twelfth of November. The movie implies that Isabelle and Gérard abandoned Michael emotionally from a young age, with Isabelle sending him to a boarding school – and then leaving them for good when she divorced Gérard. Wrecked by guilt, Isabelle wanted to follow Michael’s instructions, whereas Gérard was more reluctant and skeptical about the possibility of seeing him again.
With such a surreal story, the movie is full of silent imagery and long takes – taking full advantage of the Death Valley vista to tell the story, in between the conversations between Isabelle and Gérard. Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu practically carry the weight of the movie on their shoulder – and it is only because of them that I still managed to enjoy Valley of Love to a certain degree. The movie is ultimately about guilt and atonement, and how far one would go to remedy past mistakes. Isabelle Huppert is fantastic in the movie as a guilt-ridden mother, and Gérard Depardieu revolves from one scene to the other – from a quasimodo-like man who is past beyond his prime, to a sympathetic and reminiscing father burdened by his younger years.
Perhaps Guillaume Nicloux likes David Lynch movies – or maybe it is just his own styles. I don’t know whether I would enjoy it at all, had the actors been different. There are weird scenes that may be considered poetic or sublime for some viewers, but to me, they just made me go, “Eh?”.