Blue Valentine is a brilliant, bitterly candid, heartbreaking film about being in love, and I am in love with Blue Valentine. Only love for the film, and its characters, made me sit through its almost unbearable climactic scene -- a scene between a man and a woman which has not much violence, really, but suggests a world of immense rage and hurt and emptiness, and is harder to sit through than any other five minutes of film I can recall. In a lifetime of filmgoing, I've been moved to tears only three times; this is the third.
Cianfrance's technique has been compared to Cassavetes. That is a very good comparison. But even in the best Cassavetes, "real" as it wants to be, I feel like I'm observing, still conscious of the artifact. Blue Valentine absorbed me. I felt like I was actually there, with Dean and Cindy and their daughter. As the film ended, I wanted to reach into the story and try to put together everything that had been broken. How is this intimacy achieved? The camera is handheld, the dialogue often seems improvised; but there's also acute selection and concision at work. There's nothing random here. The very first scene - Dean and Cindy in their kitchen, feeding their child - frames the affection, the discontent, the tension, and the risk.
Blue Valentine is a romantic tragedy about a couple who fall in, then out, of love. The emotional stakes are high; it's not clear how either partner will survive the breakup, and there's a daughter at risk as well. Dean and CIndy are young, but Blue Valentine has old people everywhere, posted like sentries or prophets (who will Dean and CIndy be when they are old?) Blue Valentine has a sweet courtship scene - Dean serenades Cindy with his banjo, right there on the street. There is an abortion scene, difficult to watch, but exceptionally fine. There are spendidly tender moments. I treasure the scene in which Dean, consumed and desperate, tells Cindy what she means to him. "All I want to be is a husband and a father. I go to work every day so that I can be a husband and a father. So that I can do this." The breakup scenes heighten the profound, awful confusion that love gone wrong can bring.
I can't praise the acting enough. Ryan Gosling is moving into Brando/de Niro territory, but I pause at the comparison, because he's not really like anybody else. He broke my heart. What other cliche approximates? He genuinely inhabits the character. Michelle Williams has the tougher, underwritten, less articulate role; she leaves zones of mystery and confusion, but she's fully persuasive.I haven't seen anything released this year that comes close to Blue Valentine.
©2011 Les Phillips
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