A Voice from the Dead
Isabelle and Gérard have a strange appointment in Death Valley, California. After not seeing each other for years, they have come in answer to an invitation from their son Michael, a photographer. They the invitation after Michael committed suicide, six months ago earlier. Director Guillaume Nicloux’s “Valley of Love” is set in Death Valley where it seems that the landscape has opened itself up into an unadorned crater of a stage on which Isabelle Huppert and Gérard Depardieu, a divorced couple named Isabelle and Gérard come together because of a request from their dead son, Michael, who left them letters before he committed suicide intimating that they forge a reunion and that, if they follow his guidelines, he would reappear to them.
We know nothing about Michael except that he’d once exiled himself in Death Valley and was a photographer who often made perverse promises. We suspect that he was gay even though he is not outed in the film and the little bit that we do now is that there is a resemblance to French writer Hervé Guibert, who also was and letter writer. We never really learn what is in the letters that Michael sent to his parents yet we feel the emotionality of it.
While Isabelle and Gérard refer to the contents of the letters without saying what is written in them, we share a sense of fatality and gloominess with what we see on the screen. The contents are eventually revealed when the actors read them out loud to each other. At that point, Michael is no longer a teasing angel, an allegorical device, or a provocateur. Instead he becomes a prankster with little skills for writing.
. Isabelle and Gérard follow Michael’s script as best as they can and hope to receive a sign from their son. They hike in scorching desert heat, become bothered by vulgar Americans at their hotel, and yell, quarrel, and cry. They threaten to give up but then one morning, when Isabelle is taking a break from the sun, Gérard explores one of the canyons in the area by himself and runs back to Isabelle to tell her that Michael has appeared. She runs toward the canyon screaming her son’s name, only to find nothing. Her despair overtakes us and this suggests that there has been a doomed and childish refusal to accept a loss that predates her son’s actual demise. It is, as if, we have building up to this event and the film laid the ground for it from the very beginning.
. Gérard begs Isabelle to believe that he saw their son, who held his hand and told him that he loved them and that he forgave them for their mistakes. While his account seems just as fantastic as Isabelle’s believes that there was a material encounter and the “audience realizes, and accepts, that the most dignified way for the missing object to be visible again isn’t with its literal presence, but with its fantasy”.
Indigenous peoples have long believed in and spoken of is that there is only a thin veil between this world and the afterlife and that those who have died may occasionally manifest themselves in some way to those still alive on Earth.
Gerard was very skeptical about the whole trip but shows up anyway while Isabelle is open to the spiritual adventure which unfolds. Gerard and Isabelle reminisce about their failed marriage and the challenges that their son presented to each of them. W e never really know why they taken the time to have this meeting with each other. It seems that they did so because of the guilt they feel about their inability to give their son what he needed and/or to find closure.
Isabelle whose character is never named (but understood) arrives at Death Valley before Gerard and we do a bit of exploring with her before we even see her face. At first Gerard and Isabelle seem to be a regular sightseeing couple. Death Valley seems to be populated by people just like them, each with his/her untold story and looking for something extraordinary. “Valley of Love” defies easy categorization as it unfolds and then becomes a film that takes us on a somber narrative as we join the actors on a mysterious spiritual path. There are moments of hysteria as the film becomes spiritually evocative and a meditation on guilt, grief, and the tragedy of expectation and it is a fascinating experience.