December 24, 2010
The reason why so many of the greatest love stories are also the saddest; Brief Encounter (1945), An Affair to Remember (1957), Love Story (1970); is because they dare to tell the truth. And Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (2010), released in Australia on Boxing Day, is a brilliant and brave American indie love story that not only tells the truth, but does so with care and beauty.
Opening with a young girl – who clearly represents innocence and honesty – screaming for her lost dog it is clear from the outset that this film is concerned with love and loss. Comforted somewhat by her father, her protector and friend, the young girl can still be shielded to some extent from the bitter truth life holds. The same however, cannot be said for the child’s mother who is the unfortunate party to later find the dog laying dead by the side of the road. With the parameters for pain and protection now set, Blue Valentine pulls its focus from the child, and even the “family unit” it has established, and sets in upon the relationship that tenuously still exists between partners and parents Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams).
Carefully and subtly looking at the unequal and uncontrollable ways in which love, romance, stability and necessity move in and out of a relationship, each alternately becoming the driving force, Blue Valentine‘s greatest achievement is in its telling of such a story from simultaneously within, and outside of, their relationship. As their love begins to break down its temporal trajectory is ruptured and the entire relationship folds in upon itself, disrupting notions of time and memory. To this end, the “flash back” sequences to the early days when they began dating are not so much there to contrast an earlier hope with their now despair but rather operate just as one’s living memory does: simultaneously and often abstractly informed, but never restricted by, the confines of linear time.
As the film progresses and the fabric of their connection deteriorates the wonderfully written dialogue echoes the complete lack of understanding that comes along with an unwanted break-up, “How do you trust your feelings when they just disappear like that?” But what really drives this film, and what is an absolute credit to the very craft of acting, are the central performances from Williams and Gosling; their connection amongst the most believable I have ever seen onscreen. Their passion – all the way from love to hate – is so affecting and even palpable that it would be impossible not to feel for the characters even if you are (arguably) fortunate enough never to have had a relationship like theirs.
From the discarding of past memories; shown beautifully through the characters’ relationships with elderly people who have to leave some of their affected belongings behind; to the bleak and depressing vision of their “future”; painfully rendered through a sequence where the pair attempt to repair their damaged love via a stay in a cheap hotel where they literally gain a glimpse of how things would continue in their stay in the aptly named “future room” – the film successfully demonstrates how a relationship, even in its demise, remains subject to “feeling”, however fleeting and returning that may be, rather than any linear construction of events. A wonderful portrayal of emotive content crafted through innovative film form, Blue Valentine is set to become the greatest contemporary love story of recent times.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.