Every now and then you see ‘one of those’ films. The kind that properly gets to you, that jumps out the screen and slaps you in the face. The kind that leaves you staring at the credits for 5 minutes after it has ended, cuts through all the superfluous nonsense and reminds you what a powerful medium film can be. ‘Blue Valentine’ is ‘one of those’ films.
It was a labour of love for writer and director Derek Cianfrance. Partly based on personal experience it took him 12 years and 67 drafts to knock into shape. Watching the final result it’s vividly apparent that this is a story close to his heart.
Dean and Cindy have been married for 7 years and between them have raised a daughter. We join them with their marriage coming apart, the magic is seemingly long gone and the final few sparks from their young love are petering out before us. But between the present day scenes of their faltering marriage the film takes us back to their meeting and falling in love, where there are some genuinely touching and tender moments to warm the heart. For removal worker Dean it’s love at first sight. For Cindy, a student and aspiring doctor, Deans infectious charm and spontaneity are too much to resist. We see them opening up to each other about their lives, sharing stupid laughs and in a memorable scene dancing together in the doorway of a cut price wedding shop.
The split time-frame used by Cianfrance is extremely effective. From watching the young head-over-heels couple dancing in the street, we cut back to the present day and the dim neon light of a seedy themed sex hotel, a last gasp attempt to inject some passion. It’s not going well. The cut is a powerful moment that intensifies both strands of their story, suddenly the bygone highs seem higher and the lows of the present day are even more heart-wrenching. Deans charm has deserted him, his hair is doing likewise and his potential is unfulfilled. He loves his job as a decorator, he can have a beer at 8 in the morning and get away with it. Cindy wants more. Williams is outstanding in capturing the anxiety and frustration of a woman who feels trapped and empty in a dying marriage. Her Oscar nomination was fully deserved. Gosling, who missed out on a nomination, is equally impressive.
Falling in love and falling out of love, both have been explored hundreds of times over the years, but ‘Blue Valentine’ feels like an original take on the subject. The saying goes that every good story needs a beginning, middle and end, but ‘Blue Valentine’ makes do with just two of the three. It weaves together the romantic beginnings and the desperate end, leaving the audience to mull over what went wrong in between. What happened in those 6 years?
A couple of posts ago I prematurely mentioned that ’Warrior’ was my favourite of all the films I’d seen this year. Well, it has just been surpassed. ‘Blue Valentine’ is a thoughtfully constructed and incredibly well acted film. An emotionally draining portrait of a love turned sour, told with an uncompromising realism…. Just don’t watch it on a first-date.