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Blue Valentine: Being Blue Startles

Gosling, with no formal training as an actor, has quickly become one of the best

It’s not surprising how Derek Cianfrance, director of Blue Valentine, spent twelve years developing a project that would become the most powerful American film I’ve seen in three years. To immerse oneself in something for so long, to think it through and write it out and then erase everything and start over is a wondrous, admirable task. Rarely does one hear of someone spending twelve years on a project only for that piece of art to be a piece of shit.

This film, examining the ending and the beginning of a relationship between two people, is of course considered ‘box office poison’ yet the two stars (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) executive produced it and eventually Harvey Weinstein distributed it and presto, we finally have a piece of cinematic art brewed in this country that stands with Bergman, Cassavetes and Ozu as well as the best plays of Tennessee Williams. The recent nomination of Michelle Williams for Best Actress will help the film reach a wider audience and maybe a film that is downbeat but real and not cloying, a film that takes chances and delights in the actors taking chances, a film whose cinematography is totally compatible with the narrative, a film that actually says something rather than rely on explosions, special effects and the tawdry melodramatics of the dominant cob/robber films where the wife stews unsatisfied at home while the husband trades barbs with his expert nemesis because nothing apparently rocks a man’s world more than face-offs with the enemy and because fiscally these templates are historically successful at the box office–maybe such a film as Blue Valentine will get out to the public and ‘blow’ them away in a much more subtle fashion, moving people more than evanescent titillation, getting people to talk about their lives, their mistakes, what they think love is and hopefully having them “speak what [they] feel/not what [they] ought to say.” – King Lear (V.III.323)

What Blue Valentine does is look at love and how love becomes something else. How people change or at least become separated from the projection the other person harbors about them. In this regard, the film sticks in the brain like crusted soup in the kettle. The husband and wife (Dean and Cindy – there is a young daughter as well) grind into each other as well as romance one another for two hours but I’m still stuck on the bitter regard the character of Cindy has for Dean. Dean is a house painter and it’s debatable if he is lazy and uncouth in manners–he’s not the smartest person, but he is the better parent or at least he has a more vibrant, honest relationship with his daughter than Cindy and he is more devoted to the marriage. Cindy though, is torn. Working as a nurse, she wants a better life but she can’t bring herself to say it. Her later explosions, while valid, are seemingly unfair because Dean is giving all he can and she fell in love with Dean and married him–she is mad at herself and Dean doesn’t get it or get anything, though I’m sure for every five people who agree with me there are five who won’t and that is perfectly fine. These characters as well as those of Hamlet, Madame Bovary and Stanely Kowalski are highly debatable and though they might be triumphant in some regard, in others they are the rot of the earth. They are fallible, their designs three-dimensional-one is hard pressed to put them into any box as they resist easy interpretation. Here is a scene of the couple early in their relationship:

Derek Cianfrance’s film is funny, heartfelt and tragic. It burns down assumptions and takes anyone who has taken love for granted to task. It’s blueness being the greatest flower in many cinematic seasons.

8 thoughts on “Blue Valentine: Being Blue Startles

  1. I haven’t seen Blue Valentine, but it’s nice to hear that a project which was obviously a labor of love, turn out to be a work of art. Apparently, there “were no rehearsals [for the film] and Cianfrance rarely shot more than one take per shot.” Sounds like these aspects of its production are out of the norm as well, things which might have forced the actors to make every performance really count, like actors would in theater, subsequently giving this film a greater gravity. Gary Lutz said in an interview that Williams can express more with her back to the camera than most actors could with a close-up, so I’m definitely anxious to see her performance in this film.

    1. Yes John, he’s quite a director. He also studied under Stan Brakhage, arguable the most famous US avant-garde filmmaker.

      Williams and Gosling and the little girl lived together in a house for a month with the same amount of money available to two people in their respective jobs. Method family. This month broke up the shooting between the early scenes and the later scenes.

  2. Great thoughts, Greg. It’s a lovely movie. I think Gosling is the best actor of his “generation” (whatever that means; but definitely people should check him out in Half-Nelson if they haven’t seen it), so I went into BV with stratospheric expectations, and maybe that was the wrong thing to do. But I do think it’s a feast of emotional spectacle, and even if sometimes I feel like the story turns on predictable choices/tropes, Gosling and Williams always make art out of it.

  3. Thanks Amber and Dawn and Mike. Gosling is amazing. Yeah, love goes it’s way but it’s very rare to see a man portrayed as a ‘good’ father-even a better ‘parent’ than the mother, especially when the child is not biologically his.

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