“Valley of Love”: Depardieu and Huppert reunite in the desert

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We’ve seen tons of movies about young Americans going to France. “Valley of Love” flips the script, giving us old French people coming to America.

And not just any French people, but the great actors Gerard Depardieu and Isabel Huppert, ostensibly playing versions of themselves in Guillaume Nicloux’s unsettling drama. The film played at the Wisconsin Film Festival, and is out this week on DVD from Strand Releasing.

Depardieu and Huppert have come to a resort in Death Valley for reasons that are at first murky. It’s jarring and sort of funny at first to see these two great Gallic actors puttering around a seedy American motel, buying snacks at the local convenience store or taking a dip in the pool. When a tourist kind of/sort of recognizes Depardieu, he signs his autograph as “Robert De Niro.”

But it is soon revealed that their trip has a somber undertone. The two had a love affair decades ago that produced a son. Now that grown son has died by his own hand, and sent notes to both of them asking them to meet in Death Valley for a week. He promises that if they both come, they’ll see him again.

It’s a bizarre idea, but both come anyway. Gerard thinks it’s total nonsense, but Isabelle couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t at least try. As they meander around the hotel or go wandering in the desert, following detailed schedules drawn up by their son, “Valley of Love” is a deliberately elliptical, at times frustrating film. And yet there’s something mysterious about the film that has a pull, something about memory and the dead’s hold on the living. Things happen in the film that aren’t quite supernatural, but aren’t explainable either.

Huppert and Depardieu starred in several films together in the 1970s, and they retain an electric on-screen chemistry here that makes the film a pleasure to watch. “Valley of Love” may be difficult to explain, but the chance to see two great actors back together, with material that challenges them, makes it easy to recommend.

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