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Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Films - Blue Valentine - directed by Derek Cianfrance

Star rating – 10/10

It feels a little early, just over halfway through January as we are, to be predicting my film of 2011, but I will be very surprised if Blue Valentine is not it, or at least an extremely strong contender. It is a heartbreakingly, achingly sad story of a marriage which has failed. It is beautifully crafted, astonishingly well acted, and technically very interesting.

The story of the doomed relationship between young lovers Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) is told partly in flashback to the heady, romantic, butterflies in stomachs, time when the couple first met; and partly as their marriage is disintegrating before them. We do not get to find out what happened in the middle, but are left only to speculate. It is brave and refreshing of director Derek Cianfrance to treat his audience as intelligent, thinking beings, rather than fodder to be crammed into the cinema and spoon fed. This is also a very interesting way to make the movie hang together, the timeline is not sequenced in order, and the significant events are not signposted.

The haunting, impossibly convincing central performances from both Williams and Gosling are also what makes this film an absolute masterpiece. We are not told who is the good guy and the bad in the relationship, indeed, there is really neither, and consequently the sympathies of the viewer oscillate between the two as they fall madly, quickly and very rashly and incompatibly in love, then get dragged out of love by circumstance and inevitability.

It apparently took 11 years to bring this film to the screen, and it is clearly a labour of love. Cianfrance used method acting to create the intensity of feeling between Cindy and Dean that he needed. He shot the falling in love scenes first, then got Williams and Gosling to actually live together for a month, to get to know each others annoying habits presumably, then shot the ending of the marriage scenes.

These are ordinary people from working class neighbourhoods who meet by chance as he is working for a removal company and she is visiting her grandma in an old people’s home. He is a dreamy romantic who wants desperately to believe in love at first sight. She is a clever girl who would love to be a doctor but settles for early motherhood after her no good boyfriend gets her pregnant then beats up her new friend Dean. The scenes when she decides not to have an abortion, with Dean waiting outside to support her, then immediately offering to marry her and create a family of their own are tender and sensitively shot. They both, in very different ways, are craving to create a loving family that they were each denied.

And why does it all go so badly wrong? Well that’s the million dollar question. Who ever knows exactly why some relationships fail. This film is not trying to make a particular statement about that, just powerfully and honestly portraying this one relationship, and doing it wonderfully and tenderly. An absolute classic, this will be very hard to beat.

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