Director: Derek Cianfrance
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
R.T. 114 min.
Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a young removal man with a heart to give and Cindy is a medical student who knows that love hurts. They get it together but will it survive as time goes by? It’s not looking hopeful.
“It’s a brutal, beautiful and affecting piece of work.” The Scotsman
“Did it have to be such a downer?” This Is London
“A powerful, piercing, brilliantly acted exploration of the ways in which love can die.” Daily Express
“Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give two of the most explosive and emotionally naked performances you will see anywhere.” Rolling Stone
I didn’t expect to have a good time with this film which opens with a miserable-looking dad and his little daughter looking for their lost pet dog near a busy road. At times like this I try to will myself away from the cinema to somewhere much pleasanter where everyone always lives happily ever after.
Blue Valentine is no fairy tale.
The film is director Derek Cianfrance’s labour of love. He wrote the script thirteen years ago and stuck with it until this low budget but beautiful film was shot years later but still with the youthful energy of a scorchingly new idea.
It is agony of course. We follow the two main characters Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) in a series of backwards and forwards leaps between first love and the terrible and turbulent crisis some years later. Gosling and Williams are perfectly cast and searingly powerful in their roles as the ordinary, totally realistic, highly believable but also universal couple whose emotional pain holds us through every anguished frame of this movie.
Both actors are dedicated followers of Method Acting and stories from the location confirm just how far both of them were prepared to go to achieve the emotional realism that Derek Cianfrance imagined. This demands more than just the impressive enough way that they both put on weight and go “down hill” for the later sequences, Gosling has a scene where he wakes up and struggles out of bed and, apparently, in reality, Gosling did wake up and struggle out of bed to find the film crew already filming him. Similarly, the scene in the shower where Dean and Cindy try to relight their fire, was filmed over several days and for such long periods that they both ended up with bleeding nipples. The shower is an essential sequence in a weirdly futuristic motel room where both characters see Hell and sink to mutual misery of almost unwatchable intensity. There will be few performances to match these in modern cinema.
It isn’t all gloom either, Cianfrance’s lyrical account of the couple’s early love is as romantic as any romantic comedy but twice as heart-felt and consequently the unravelling of the relationship is all the more difficult to watch.
The ordering of the scenes has an apparent randomness that reminds us that relationships are a tangled mix of memories and present actualities which are inter-connected and indivisible. Dean and Cindy are not just on a downward spiral, they are consumed by each other and beyond simple solutions whatever the ending brings for them. So don’t expect a fairy tale, Derek Cianfrance has made a film for grown-ups who can handle the pain but who also know that love is quite unpredictable and that, somehow, makes the whole thing worthwhile.