TIFF Review: Blue Valentine

 

 

 

[Now Playing at a Theater near you!]

Quite by accident I had the opportunity to watch back-to-back films at the festival ruminating on the destructive force of love, ignited first in Tracy Wright’s haunting monologue in Trigger, and then extrapolated in fine detail through the anatomy of a divorce that is Blue Valentine.  Director Derek Cianfrance took twelve years to stew on what he wanted to say about love and marriage in his film Blue Valentine, the principle actors, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling, had over half a decade to think about how they would bring Cindy and Dean to life – this rare gift to the creative process paid off astoundingly as the final product is second only to Ingmar Bergmans’ Scenes from a Marriage in its capacity to lay bare the wounds of love after the veil of the honeymoon phase has been lifted.  Like in Bergman’s film, the destructive force at play in the marriage of Cindy and Dean is not one of particular abuse or issue but rather emotional illiteracy. Try as they might to understand one another or even have a civil conversation, the lack of a common grammar keeps them perpetually on edge.  Complicating the matter is their mutual love for their daughter who goes through the majority of the film oblivious to the underlying fissures of their family unit.

The film intercuts moments of the first blush of love with scenes of the last gasp and inevitable destruction of their union, the two timelines building towards the harshest of contrasts by the final scene.  This play with chronology is reminiscent of Francois Ozon’s 5×2 and a far, far superior handling of what was attempted in 500 Days of Summer.  Out of this collage of moments a sense of who these people are emerge, the realization is slow in coming as pertinent information about their relationship is teased out, just when you think you understand a character motivation or takes sides on an issue, a new development in the story challenges your assumptions.  The effect is intoxicating.  When Cindy attempts to casually tell Dean of an encounter of a old flame in the liquor store, it’s like the air in the car is slowly escaping, and having not been privy to the history underlying their conversation what you are left with is visceral drama, is he going to lash out? Is she going to burst into tears? The scene teeters on the edge as does the bulk of the denouement. When the fireworks come, literally and figuratively, you know it has been a long time coming.

The performances of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are of such a caliber of nuance that they scarcely registered as performances, it’s only in retrospect that I realize what kind of achievement it was.  A testament to the characters they created, and to Cianfrance’s attentive script, Cindy and Dean feel wholly genuine.  Those inquiring to the whereabouts of the actor that shone so brightly in Half-Nelson may rest assured that he is back in top form here.  Ryan Gosling is incredible, and I don’t care if it is a cliché to say but he is every bit Brando at the top of his game in his portrayal of Dean as a principled bully capable of restraint and articulation one moment, weakness and aggression the next.  A lesser film would try to demonize Dean as an aggressive lout but in Blue Valentine he comes off immensely sympathetic while still quietly pissing you off at the same time.  Michelle Williams as Cindy is a somewhat quieter performance but only because of the potential eclipse Gosling’s evokes.  Her character too, resists succumbing to the stereotype, not merely a screaming wife at her wit’s end, Cindy is a woman who was never fully whole yet capable of modest ambition that dissolved over time.  With respects to her feelings for Dean, her body tells her what her heart should have known long ago, and in one of the signature scenes of the film, Cindy wrestles with this conflict in one drunken night in the ‘Future room’.

I was afraid from its buzz at Sundance that Blue Valentine would be one of those safe Indie movies that pays lip service to weighty emotions but is really more quirky than ponderous.  I was not fully prepared with the candor and conviction of Cianfrance’s vision, this is the real thing.  Everything from the quiet animosity of their relationship to the frank body language of sex just aches with a sincerity that is above and beyond most films of this kind of Indie sheen.  That said, the film has a gritty texture to it, it feels lived in, and the musical choices (mostly Grizzly Bear) are pitch-perfect.  My one complaint is the inexplicable absence of the title song by Tom Waits, not only is it a phenomenal song but its lyrics seem like a blueprint for the entire film, how did it not make it anywhere in the film?!  Small complaint for such a monumental achievement, quite possibly the best film I have seen at TIFF this year.

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Jandy Hardesty
Admin

How would you compare it to <span class="movie">Revolutionary Road</span>, which also documents the breakdown of a marriage intercut with its euphoric beginnings? I know you were a big fan of Rev Road. That one had other elements, too, related to their place in society, city/suburb, etc, but in terms of the central relationship, how does <span class="movie">Blue Valentine</span> compare?

Jonathan
Admin

A Grizzly Bear soundtrack? As if I wasn't already looking forward to this like crazy…

rot
Guest

The MPAA are afraid of sex, pure and simple, this is NOT NC-17 material

http://theplaylist.blogspot.com/2010/10/mpaa-slap

rot
Guest

oh wait just thought of the scene, Playlist got it wrong I bet, not the sex scene, something else that had me squirming in my seat… if so, the rating is more political than anything.

Jonathan
Guest

Here's a great article from a sexologist on the hypocrisy behind the NC-17 rating.

rot
Guest

The NC-17 rating has been overturned! http://bit.ly/dPBaPR

First petition I have signed that actually ended in a positive result!

Goon
Guest

i saw this today (full theater too!) and thought it was incredible, powerful, occasionally hard to watch… i thought at a couple points i was going to be sick – i was that invested in these characters. You know I love Williams but was particularly amazed by Gosling.

But I didnt think of 500 days of Summer, I thought it reminded me a bit of the ‘before/after’ sort of nature of Eternal Sunshine (minus the mind erase gimmick of course)… but maybe now that you mention it these 3 different films are their own mini film festival of a start/end of things, and I love all three films

rot
Guest

nice to hear full theater, still think it is a bit of an inexplicable dump first week in jan. the playing with chronology was the only association I made with 500 summers, a film I REALLY did not like.

I haven’t seen Firth’s performance but I think for sheer devotion to a role, Gosling deserves the oscar

Darcy McCallum
Guest

agree with Mike, Gosling is performance of the year, for me the best male or female performance since Rourke in Wrestler, EPIC stuff, he wasn’t so goo in All Good Things or Lars & The Real Girl, but its his second oscar worthy performance after Half Nelson, wehen the dude is good, he’s the best of his generation (Gen X)

Jandy Hardesty
Admin

I don’t understand either why they waited until now to release this. Should’ve hit full-on Oscar season, because this is a fantastic film. Definitely would’ve hit my top ten, possibly top five, if I’d seen it in time. Both performances were great, I thought, I wouldn’t want to rank one against the other.

The intercutting was great, and left me with such a wonderful mix of conflicting emotions by the end – this is how I want to be affected by film.

Mike, I do think you should check out Two for the Road, with Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn. It doesn’t pack the devastating emotional punch of Blue Valentine, but it’s similar in storyline and has a similar intercutting technique, and it’s quite good on its own.

rot
Guest

Like I said in the review the only other “film” comparable is Bergman’s miniseries Scenes from a Marriage… it is of that calibre

rot
Guest

but have not seen TWO FOR THE ROAD yet

Tom Clift
Member

Terrific film. Especially towards the end of the film, the crosscutting is just brilliant. There’s one moment where they cut between two scenes of Dean and Cindy holding each other which just killed me (anyone know which moment I mean)?

I totally agree with Goon – this, 500 Days of Summer (a film I loved, sorry Mike) and Eternal Sunshine would make a great triple feature. Probably shouldn’t play this one last though…might be better to go out on a slightly more upbeat note.

My only problem with this film was that the end credits seemed way over-produced. Far to glossy for what was otherwise such a gritty, real looking film

Jandy
Guest

Rot, you won’t find Two for the Road as exceptional as Blue Valentine, so don’t go into it expecting to. They just remind me of each other because the plot is so similar – a dissolving marriage intercut with earlier parts of the couple’s relationship. I think Two for the Roas jumps around a little more – it feels less like comparing the end of a relationship with the beginning (what Blue Valentine does, with each time period running in chronological order), and more like collapsing time altogether and showing moments throughout the relationship to show how all moments, all emotions, all aspects of the relationship are part of it all the time. It’s a fascinating film in structure and more emotionally adult than a lot of films of the time (1967), but it doesn’t have the raw impact of Blue Valentine.

As a side note, watching both this and Black Swan in the same day, the whole NC-17 thing was idiotic, if it was about the oral sex scene. Black Swan’s is way more explicit. Now, the sex scene in the Future Room was pretty disturbing and hard to watch, but not explicit at all.

Jonathan Hardesty
Guest

I was actually thinking about the end credit sequence on my way back from the theater. It seems a little over-produced given the rest of the film, but at the same time it gave me a bit of an emotional punch and just added to the tragedy of the whole thing. As each new image of them all happy and “in love” flitted across the screen, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of all the interaction in the future room and how bad things had become.

I really liked this film, but I definitely left it devastated.

rot
Guest

rewatched it today and still hold by the 5/5, I LOVE this film. Noticed the second time around how great the Grizzly Bear music is, particularly the score music. I know the scene you are talking about Tom, it is pretty much the final big punch to the gut of the film.

and on second time around noticed how even more tame the sexual elements of the film actually are, the NC-17 was a crock of shit. **spoilers** My theory is it had more to do with the political aspect of depicting an attempted abortion, that and the intensity of the emotion in some of the sex scenes…

Goon
Guest

figured i’d throw the comment in here rather than the ETV thread…

I think seeing BV this week and noting its airiness and incredible performances made Enter the Void’s wooden bland characters stand out as such all the more. I guess this is what happens when you put real, researched, careful attention to acting next to acting that just serves as a mean to an end.

rot
Guest

for the record, I prefer Blue Valentine to Enter the Void, two very different experiences, but I like my emotion observational more than immediate and abstract.

Jonathan
Admin

Holy smokes. Talk about heart-wrenching. Wow. I cannot wait to see this again. And Gosling was seriously snubbed an Oscar nomination? Crazy.

rot
Guest

It is just as great a second time, I could also appreciate the Grizzly Bear music more the second time around

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

We forgot to talk about the great soundtrack in BV on the cinecast, albeit, it was the background music for the show. Yea, wonderful stuff.

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