Happy Halloween everyone! Probably should have gone with a horror-film… oh well.
It took Derek Cianfrance nearly twelve years to finally make Blue Valentine. As a twenty-year-old, Cianfrance watched his parents divorce, this was such a painful experience he felt he should make a film about it. Naturally, it would be a very personal project, and as projects go, the personal ones are hard to get made. Especially as this one probably wouldn’t have a happy ending. After his 1998 debut, Brother Tied, Cianfrance would spend the next decade doing documentaries and refining the script for Blue Valentine, which went through about 66 iterations. Both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were involved from an early point in development, but the actual production kept being delayed due to financial woes. When the moment finally came to make the film, it almost didn’t happen because Williams now (no longer 21 years old) had a child to care for, which meant she could not commit to thirty days of shooting. However, Cianfrance managed to convince her by picking a spot close to Williams’ home and driving her to and from the shoot every day. It’s a good thing Cianfrance has such a close and historied working relationship with Gosling and Williams: you’d probably have a hard time creating the required intimacy to portray this kind of subject matter without knowing your actors so well. Coincidentally, the length of time the crew spent thinking about the film, allowed the pain it conveys to ripen like a fine wine. At times, it’s almost too much to bear.
Blue Valentine tells the story of two lovers, Dean and Cindy (played by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams). As with a film like Drive, there isn’t much in the way of a plot. It’s just moments of life on film, except where Hitchcock loses the dull bits, Cianfrance cuts everything that doesn’t make you wince. We see Dean and Cindy at two moments in time, both during their courtship and in the twilight of their marriage (which comes apart over the course of a gloomy weekend). By juxtaposing these two periods in their relationship, even the happier moments have something desperate cast over them. It’s similar to what happens in Michel Gondry‘s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004). In Eternal Sunshine, the characters erase part of their memory to deal with the pain of separation. Jim Carrey’s subconscious fights to remember his love among (literally) collapsing memories. It’s all the more beautiful because you know it’s a lost cause. As I’ve said, Cianfrance does something similar, but instead of resorting to sci-fi devices, Blue Valentine uses a method that’s (nearly) as old as cinema: inter-cutting scenes (editing together scenes from different moments in time or space).
What is, perhaps, the most striking example of this practice, occurs at the end of the film. Images of a hasty (though happy?) wedding are combined with the final moments of marriage. With the words ‘you may now kiss the bride’ still ringing in your ears, you see Dean biting back, I swear, real tears as he asks whether their daughter should grow up in a broken home. Using the last weapon a man has at his disposal, he half forces Cindy to embrace him. Usually that sort of thing does the trick (for a while), but you can tell it’s all over when Cindy merely allows it, shaking angrily in the mean time. It’s devastating.
Maybe it’s because I’m a man (and some of this struck close to home), but I found myself to be sympathizing with Dean’s cause a lot more. Sure, he drank a little, smoked some more and didn’t seem to have much in the way of ambition. But Dean isn’t a bad guy, all he wanted was some affection. And at least he wasn’t being a cold-hearted bitch about it. I’m sure someone out there must have a different opinion, so what say you: Dean or Cindy?