BLUE VALENTINE is a justifiably praised indie drama about a young couple falling in and out of love. The stories of their meeting in the early twenties, and their disintegrating marriage six years later, and presented linearly, but inter-cut. Seeing the couple in their early heady romance juxtaposed so directly with their later frustrations brings an added pathos to what would have already been an incredibly affecting, brutally closely observed story.
Ryan Gosling (HALF NELSON) and Michelle Williams (WENDY AND LUCY) both give bravura performances as Dean and Cindy, perfectly rendering portraits of their characters at two stages of life. Gosling's Dean starts off as a charming, spontaneous, caring young man, stuck in a blue-collar job but apparently not asking anything more from life. No surprise then that Cindy - stuck in a loveless home - is drawn to his open-ness and warmth - so much so that when she falls pregnant she is willing to shelve her career ambitions to make a life with him. Six years later, and Cindy is tired and frustrated - a dutiful mother and working woman. Dean's spontaneity and charm now strike her as infantile, and though faithful to the idea of marriage, she has no desire for him. Meanwhile, Dean is seemingly so content with the idea of being a husband and father that he has no desire to push himself any further in life, or any real comprehension as to his wife's new-found coldness toward him. By marrying Cindy he has achieved more than he could have ever dreamed of - the pretty middle-class girl - and perhaps the greatest sadness of the film is that while Cindy can see more, has been raised to try for more, Dean has never been given that sense of possibility.
The bold performances are matched by documentary film-maker Derek Cianfrance's choices with the camera and editing. He shoots the couple in two very different styles in each period of their life - the courtship is in wide-angled Super 16 that always seems a little bright and grainy - like watching old cine-films of your childhood. It adds to the feeling that these are old memories. The present is shot with long lenses on DV, and it feels like the camera is always positioned to give us the feeling that the two characters are caught in a confined space, and yet never in the same focus when in the frame. It's as though the camera lens is literally entrapping them in a shared space but perpetual misunderstanding.
The overall effect is one of uncomfortable voyeurism. The movie is almost an endurance test. Because we are charmed by the couple's courtship - because they are both essentially good and charming and caring people - it becomes absolutely gruelling to watch them inflict hurt after hurt upon each other for no typically Hollywood-reason - no distinct cause - but just because they have grown up, or haven't in different ways.
BLUE VALENTINE played Sundance, Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and London 2010. It is currently on release in the US, Australia, Malaysia and Canada. It opens in the UK this Friday, in Portugal on February 3rd and in Sweden on April 1st. Both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams have been nominated for Golden Globes.